February 15, 2021
Source: The Urban List (Australia)
Over four million people in Australia have a disability.
When it comes to finding love, every person, with a disability or not, should have the right to seek and explore social connections online. It’s no new phenomena that dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge have completely overhauled the way young people connect with one another but unfortunately, the narrative for people with a disability on dating apps goes largely ignored.
If you log onto any dating app right now, it’s an ableist lovefest. Apps lack accessibility features and useful resources to diminish bias.
Jerusha Mather is a PhD student at Victoria University, with cerebral palsy, and she’s on a mission to make dating more accessible and inclusive. Particularly, when it comes to dating apps. She’s also the powerhouse behind the petition — Bumble, Tinder, e-Harmony: Make Your Platforms More Inclusive Of People With Disabilities, which has almost tallied up 3000 signatures.
We caught up with Jerusha to get her take on changing people’s attitudes, creating safe spaces for people with disabilities and making dating apps more inclusive.
What Are You Petitioning About?
“I am petitioning to increase support for people with disabilities who’d like to find love within dating applications. Be that through initiating specialist coaching/ mentoring programs, alternative personalised matchmaking initiatives, and speed dating events aimed at increasing inclusion.”
“I’d also love to see more regular disability awareness and education initiatives such as the initiation of workshops and seminars and also regular media activities aimed to increase awareness of people with disabilities.”
What Has Been Your Experience On Dating Apps?
“I’ve had experiences where I didn’t get appropriate matches and I’m fearful that if I try again, I’ll become entrenched and my boundaries won’t be protected. I’m also aware that people with disabilities are more susceptible to violence and harassment and I think something needs to be done to make it safe for them. This is where there needs to be more personalised supportive mechanisms for us.”
“It’s so important that we change perceptions of disabilities, for all people to become more inclusive and supportive. For all to become supportive allies. That’s what I really want to see more of. Like seeing more quality people being willing to give someone like myself a chance if their love is genuinely true. People with disabilities should be seen as great potential partners and parents.”
So, What Changes Do You Want To See?
“The responsibility to promote inclusion and awareness also stands with the dating organisations. There also needs to be more support for people with disabilities who would like to find love.”
Jethura suggests the following points platforms can consider when aiming to promote disability awareness and inclusion:
- Creating regular video content and blog posts on disability inclusion and accessibility in dating. This could include stories and interviews with people with disabilities.
- Holding frequent seminars and workshops on dating and disability in an attempt to reduce bias.
- Increase accessibility features such as speed dating opportunities and zoom dating.
- Provide personal support for people with disabilities who may need extra support in finding love. i.e. mentoring and specialist coaching staff.
How Can Other People Help?
“If you see someone like me on a dating platform or that’s out there that you genuinely like, don’t hesitate to ask them out. We are just as capable of being an excellent partner and contributing to the relationship as anyone else. As with any person, we come with both strengths and weaknesses. Most of us have the capability of making great parents.”
“Most of us have an enthusiasm for life and have a positive vibe. Most of us are very appealing and attractive to the human eye. Most of us are quite independent. Despite our subtle differences, we are similar in our thoughts and emotions. Why wouldn’t you want to date us?”
If you are considering dating someone with a disability, Jethura has some tips for you.
- Do not ask offensive questions. Just treat us as you would any other person.
- Turn up to the date with the intent of getting to know us. Not just our disability. Do not ghost us because of our differences.
- The assumption that people with disabilities should only date people with disabilities needs to stop. It is like saying people with dark coloured skin should only date “people who have dark coloured skin”. Disability is just another beautiful part of human diversity and should be accepted as a norm.
- Pick an accessible venue. But pick something fun and trendy. Most of us are willing to try new things.
- Be supportive, flexible, and inclusive. Be open to new things and experiences. Come in with an open mind.
- Communicate effectively and share whatever you feel. Don’t hesitate to ask us questions if you’re unsure of something.
- Educate yourself and others on accessibility and inclusion in regards to people with disabilities. Be a good ally and supporter.
- Don’t date us because you feel sorry for us or because you want to make yourself look good.
- Don’t use offensive words to describe disability such as suffering, helpless, problem, vulnerability, and struggling.
- Respect the person’s decision if they decline the offer to date you.
Jerusha adds that you can also write to dating agencies such as eHarmony and Bumble asking for more disability awareness raising opportunities to be created.
To sign Jerusha’s petition, Bumble, Tinder, e-Harmony: Make Your Platforms More Inclusive Of People With Disabilities, head over here.