Swipe right?

Modern dating is a minefield. Managing expectations, spotting red flags, dealing with unsolicited photos sent via dating apps… there’s a lot to consider. Add a disability into the mix and it gets even trickier to navigate. What support is out there?

A close up picture of love heart sweeties. The only ones we can see clearly say 'true love' and 'forever'.

The biggest thing we do is promote friendship first,” explains Rebecca, an event planner with Dates-n-Mates. The social enterprise was founded to support adults with a learning disability with friendship and dating. Based in Scotland, Dates-n-Mates organises dates and workshops on everything from consent and sex education to digital safety.

FRIENDSHIP FIRST

Focusing on friendship seems to be a smart path, especially when dating and relationships can be full of pitfalls. Additional vulnerabilities mean that disabled people can really benefit from the support of organisations when it comes to discovering a loving, fulfilling relationship.

There are some unique barriers to tackle, like lack of education, societal attitudes, and privacy. “People have these ideas of what love is and what a relationship is from the movies or social media,” explains Rebecca. “They never get taught in school what a healthy relationship should look like.”

THE LOVE PROJECT

Research carried out by the University of Kent, titled The Love Project, investigated the issues that disabled people face when exploring love and relationships. The study found that while parents and carers were supportive of disabled adults exploring relationships, there were concerns about abuse and exploitation. Dates-n-Mates’ Rebecca agrees: “A lot of our members don’tsee themselves as having a learning disability – they just see themselves as being different, which is great, but I worry that people outside of the community might take advantage.”

Providing a safe space for disabled people to gain deeper understanding about relationships is vital. Disability charity Enhance the UK is tackling some of the biggest taboos head-on with its Love Lounge service, an advice line offering personalised support on everything from improving your confidence when dating, to managing sex with a catheter and stoma.

Their website is also home to the Undressing Disability Hub, a platform to share information and build awareness around sex and disability, using inclusive, fuss-free language.

A picture of someone's hands holding red fabric 2D heart.

SOULMATE SEARCH

Having the opportunity to form genuine connections without fear of judgement or discrimination is so important, and specialist organisations like Dates-n-Mates make finding your soulmate a little easier. “When you’re on dating apps it can be quite isolating,” Rebecca says. “You don’t know who the person is behind the phone.” But at Dates-n- Mates events, members get the chance to mingle with others. “They often come to us and say ‘I like the look of them, can I get a match with them?’,” she reveals. And, although the course of true love never did run smooth, that first step can be the start of something beautiful…

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For tailored matchmaking or events in Scotland, visit Dates-n-Mates (www.datesnmates.org.uk). For support and information on sex and relationships, visit Enhance the UK (www.enhancetheuk.org).

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