Every day we are confronting a culture that looks at our bodies before it even tries to listen to what we are saying. In such a culture that overwhelmingly values youth and beauty, women with disabilities are found at the lowest level of the totem pole of love and romance.
As people with physical disabilities, we have rarely seen any real role models or even peers whom we could talk to about our experience of disability. Of all the things I am in life, it has been my disability that seems to have got top billing, especially when I was looking for love and a partner. And this fact has always perplexed me, staring me in the face like a giant roadblock.
During my teen years, the absence of someone to look up to, or talk with, about intimacy, dating, and sexuality was more conspicuous. I often used to ask myself, how much of this lived experience is really accessible to us?
We are absent and invisible in pop culture. We can be seen nowhere in the conventional narratives of romance and relationships. We are mostly misinformed and uninformed.
OF ALL THE THINGS I AM IN LIFE, IT HAS BEEN MY DISABILITY THAT SEEMS TO HAVE GOT TOP BILLING.
People around us hold stereotypes or are anxious and afraid of approaching the subject. They do this because it makes them uncomfortable, without ever asking what’s right for us. Thus we are not able to start even a conversation to change this.
Due to our limited mobility, all aspects of our personal care get intrinsically tied to the hands of the caregiver. We are not able to find a way to learn about our own bodies. We have been denied people a fundamental part of being human – the right to have intimacy and connectedness.
It is lamentable that so many people still have to fight for what majority takes for granted. They think they’re protecting people with disabilities by not talking to them about sex, love and relationships, when in fact they’re only making them easier targets for abuse. It is just like putting a bubble around people. Sadly, such fallacies are archaic, prejudicial and damaging to the society as a whole.
Men find women with disabilities as weak and fragile, trying to spend their lives just sitting in their wheelchairs or confined to their beds all day and doing nothing significant or worthwhile. For them, a woman with a disability is a fetish, friend, or an innocent and childlike creature! They are “damsels in distress” who are being in constant and need of being cared for. There is no doubt that dating with disabilities presents demands that the majority of people don’t ever have to face, but just because a relationship is physically challenging, it doesn’t have to be an excuse to run for the exits.
What I have experienced in my life as a woman with a visible disability is that society at large puts us in these boxes: 1) non-sexual; 2) infantile; 3) dependent and needy; 4) desperate. Such sweeping generalizations are condescending as they focus more on the disability than on the person.
We also want to wake up in the morning and have someone there by our side and feel loved, satisfied and happy – just like every other girl. But unfortunately, we are perceived to have no desire for sex, nor want to be desired by the opposite (or same) sex. But in truth, most women with disabilities experience the same desire for pleasure, love, and physical connection, as any other woman.
If we try to analyse the whole scenario from men’s point of view we may find that society’s perception of the disability community skewed more towards the negative. Men think that if they a relationship with a girl with disability or date one, their status would be reduced to that of a nurse or a caretaker.
Romantic love depends on intangible qualities like loyalty, commitment, honesty, kindness, understanding, forgiveness, humour and none of these suffer at all from bodily limitations. In the area of love and romance, internal qualities outperform external ones.
DUE TO OUR LIMITED MOBILITY, ALL ASPECTS OF OUR PERSONAL CARE GET INTRINSICALLY TIED TO THE HANDS OF THE CAREGIVER.
A major barrier for women with disabilities in making interpersonal connections with the outside world is lack of physical accessibility of public spaces. Social media and online dating sites can be convenient and prove to be good in building confidence. It has made it easier for people in general to meet each other.
However, this online world can become a double-edged sword. It can either increase the ability to be more socially connected or to be lonelier. People can fake online identity or profile in order to pursue one or multiple online relationships. Personal pictures can be misused for stalking and harassment.
Everyone must know how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. This is something that women with disabilities need to know. There are practical ways to strike a balance between freedom and safety.
Women with disabilities have to develop confidence and come out of the shell of their negative body image. The less of a deal we make of it, the less of an issue it is for the men.
Always remember that when you find the right partner for you, you’ll find ways to be creative together. Like every other woman you are also capable to show men a few things they’ve never seen or done before!