Discussing your disabilities on a date can be difficult: your new partner is probably curious about the extent of your sexual abilities. Can you have intercourse? What special needs do you have? What are your limits or particular talents?
The hardest part of this conversation can be deciding when to have it. How does one lead into the subject? Do you talk about disability at the onset of the first date, or wait until the second, third or fourth meeting?
People living with disabilities tend to worry about saying too much or not saying enough. Place these feelings of anxiety aside! Discussion about a person's disability typically comes up naturally within conversation. For example, a conversation could begin around a modified van, a Seeing Eye dog, the use of sign language or a prosthetic device or mobility aide. When these subjects arise, respond honestly and openly to questions, and your prospective partner will understand you are comfortable discussing your disability.
Ironically, while you are worrying about how and when to bring up the limits imposed by your disability, your date is no doubt struggling with questions, afraid of offending you, but wanting information. For example, your date may wonder what arrangements need to be made to accommodate your disability during an evening out. Can you walk a few steps unaided, or do you require your wheelchair at all times? Are you comfortable with having a menu read to you, or would you prefer to dine only in restaurants that offer Braille menus?
If he or she is unfamiliar with dating a disabled person, as many people are the first time they do so, your date may simply blurt out, "What is your disability, and what do I need to do to arrange a date?" Although some individuals feel comfortable with this direct approach, others may not know how to respond to such a remark. Be compassionate, and try not to get offended. Remember, your date is simply trying to ensure you both enjoy yourselves.
It is important to remember that these questions also come up when two people with disabilities date each other. Contrary to popular belief, the disabled are not all alike—we do have questions about our friends and dating partners with different types of disabilities.
Given the uneasiness that can surface, here are some helpful hints for people with disabilities, as well as for their able-bodied and disabled dating partners.
Dr. Linda R. Mona is a nationally recognized expert, and well-known advocate, for disability rights. She has authored numerous presentations and papers on the topic of sexuality and disability, in particular, and often runs workshops on this very important topic.