Cupid’s arrows miss

    “Going out with a blind person? Can’t you get anything else?”
    That’s what Geoffrey Long remembers being said to the girl he was
    with on his very first date. He was just 17 and remembers the shock
    he felt. It wasn’t long before he realised that such a reaction was
    not a one-off.

    Yet this experience did not deter Long, who was born blind, from
    choosing to date other non-disabled women. “I had this thing of
    wanting to date girls to prove that a blind person could. I had
    this silly idea that if I dated a girl with full sight then that
    was some kind of kudos for me,” he says.

    Like many disabled people, Long had to think carefully about
    where he could go on a date that would be both enjoyable and
    practical. He says that given his blindness there was little point
    in going to watch a film, and so restaurants, pubs and walks were
    his preferred options. But even then, his blindness could cause him
    unexpected – and extremely unromantic – problems.

    “On one date I had been with a girl to the pub and then a
    Chinese restaurant. It had all gone well and she had agreed to come
    back to my flat. The trouble was, I was bursting for a pee in the
    restaurant. I didn’t know where the loo was and out of
    embarrassment didn’t like to ask her. I only just made it back to
    the flat in time,” he recalls, cringing at the memory.

    Of course, it wasn’t just when he was on the dates that Long’s
    disability caused him problems – his disability also affected his
    preparatory work.

    “If you are sighted you can scout the talent, look around the
    room, see what is available and then make a beeline. If you’re
    blind you have to be introduced,” he says.

    Despite the added pressure, Long didn’t have difficulty meeting
    women. But this isn’t a familiar tale for most disabled people.
    Anne Pridmore, who has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user, is
    convinced that dating is more difficult for disabled people because
    of the way society views them.

    “The main restriction is the attitude of non-disabled people to
    disabled people. We’re in the 21st century but when it comes to
    sexuality you wouldn’t think it,” she says.

    She remembers interviewing someone to be her personal assistant.
    The candidate was asking probing questions, and wanted to know how
    many times a week she took a shower. “I told her ‘every other day
    and twice on Sunday, the same as I have sex’,” says Pridmore. The
    shocked candidate didn’t hang around.

    Pridmore was married for 20 years. Her husband was disabled, but
    since he left she has been out with a number of non-disabled men.
    But she says that non-disabled men often just want friendship.

    “You often find that non-disabled men find you a perfect vehicle
    to offload their problems but that when sex rears its head they are
    not interested. They don’t envisage you might want anything more.
    And for people with a high level of support needs it can be
    difficult to portray the body language to move the relationship
    on,” she says.

    Pridmore’s dates have come from a variety of sources – one she
    met when he came round to mend the video, another she contacted
    after seeing an ad in the paper. A good job, given that getting to
    places to meet potential dates can be a challenge for disabled
    people. Singles clubs are often held in inaccessible places on the
    presumption that disabled people would not want to come, says
    Pridmore, and some dating agencies refuse to even accept disabled
    people onto their books.

    But it’s not just on the dating circuit that disabled people
    face prejudice. A few years ago, Pridmore was trying to get an
    electronic gadget to close the curtains in her bedroom, where she
    had a double bed. On seeing the double bed, the occupational
    therapist remarked that if it were swapped for a single bed there
    would be room for a wheelchair to get around it.

    “I asked her if she had a partner and she did so I asked her
    what made her think that I didn’t have one,” says Pridmore.

    Too often, it seems, health and social care workers don’t even
    acknowledge that their disabled clients may have – or at least want
    – a sex life. Dominic Davies, a psychotherapist who specialises in
    sex, says that not enough is done to help workers with this
    subject, and suggests that sex education training be introduced in
    colleges.

    “Practitioners can find it hard to think about. People have
    their own sexual histories and that can get in the way of helping
    disabled people. They may feel protective if they have been
    exploited themselves, so we need to start with the self-awareness
    of workers,” he says.

    He adds that from a young age disabled people are often
    discouraged from seeing themselves as sexual, and are rarely given
    the privacy to allow a relationship to develop.

    “If they want to begin to be sexual they have their
    relationships monitored by workers and carers who rather than
    facilitating disabled people end up policing them and inhibiting
    them,” says Davies.

    Where workers do want to help, management and policies often
    prevent them out of fear that the disabled person will end up being
    abused or exploited, says Davies. So discussions about sex only
    take place in the context of preventing and identifying sexual
    abuse rather than considering it as a consensual and pleasurable
    act.

    Disabled people, like everyone else, have romantic and sexual
    needs. It is surely the responsibility of health and social care
    professionals to make sure that they are given every opportunity to
    fulfil them.

    • Research for this article was assisted by Cupid Calls, an
      online dating service that encourages membership from disabled
      people. Visit www.cupidcalls.co.uk

    DATING PROBLEMS:

    Comments on dating from  disabled people

    “Care professionals ought to stop giving us platitudes and help
    us meet like-minded people on the basis of our intellect and
    interests instead of just likewise disabled individuals.”
    Marco Re 

    “Most females see my disability and get put off. With all the
    help I need I would have to know if my partner could cope with
    that. A lot of people just want the easy option.”  Jazz
    Singh
     

    “If you go to a dating agency, do you put down you’re disabled
    or tell people after you have got in touch? I don’t think you would
    get replies if you did say. I was told off by one man I was in
    touch with that I’d been misleading in my profile.”
    Josephine Breen

    “I wear a night pad as I am unable to get out of bed without
    assistance to use the toilet. A pad does not make instantaneous
    lovemaking a possibility as there would need to be preparation and
    forethought.” Chris Thomas (not her real
    name) 

    “I live in a care home so don’t always have a lot of privacy.
    Staff often want to know who my friends are which is fine from an
    informal point of view but in some cases can be a bit intrusive.” 
    Matt Long

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