Did you just meet an amazing person to date who is in a wheelchair? Often able-bodied people become afraid to date wheelchair users. Generally, the fear comes from not knowing how to approach and handle a variety of situations. Common topics arise such as dating locations, activities and limitations. Consider the following when dating a wheelchair user.
Get to know the person
Don’t let the wheelchair blind you from who the person truly is inside. Maximillian Wachtel, a Psychologist at Cherry Creek Psychology in Denver, states “People in wheelchairs are the same as everyone else. Some are interesting, loving, kind, fun, and some are jerks. Always keep in mind you are dating the person, not the wheelchair.”
Don’t worry about people staring
Able-bodied people who date wheelchair users are often surprised at the stares they receive. Wheelchair users get stared at and told a variety of unusual comments on a daily basis. This time, you just happen to be standing next to them. Unfortunately, not everyone in society treats wheelchair users equally. Don’t pay attention to the stares in public. There is nothing you can do to stop it from happening so don’t worry about it.
Be willing to help
Every person with mobility issues has their own story about how they became a wheelchair user. Most wheelchair users have adapted to life and don’t need help with anything at all. Others may require you to drive, help with transferring in and out of the car and more. It’s important to discuss what your date needs you to do. The reason you want to know ahead of time is so you don’t insult your date. If you automatically go running to help your date with every little task it will cause them to feel uncomfortable or think you see them as helpless. Keep in mind most wheelchair users are independent. Politely stating “let me know if there is anything you need me to help you with” at the beginning of the date will help.
Choose a location or activity for a date
It is wise to discuss the location or activity with your date. You will want to learn more about your date’s interests and mobility restrictions to determine the best location.
Once you choose the location for your date, plan ahead. Call ahead to the restaurant, park, concert venue or any other location to assure it is wheelchair accessible. Learn where the accessible entrance is so you limit any potential issues.
Don’t feel limited
A common mistake able-bodied people make when dating a wheelchair user is setting limits. Don’t assume your date has limitations. You will quickly learn that most wheelchair users are adventurous, athletic and more. Depending on your date’s interests, you may find yourself on an exciting rollercoaster, boating at the local lake and more.
This is where many able-bodied people go wrong. Unfortunately, people ask the wrong questions. It’s not that you are being intentionally rude you are just new to the situation. Wheelchair users will begin to share their story when they feel comfortable around you and a level of trust has been developed. On the first date, focus on getting to know the person instead of the reason why they are in a wheelchair. Allow them to bring up the issue on their own terms.
What about sex?
This is a sensitive topic that requires patience. Never bring up the topic of sex on the first date. It is wise to discuss sex once you spend plenty of time dating and the topic naturally arises. Calmly mention you would like to take the relationship further and inquire if your date is feeling the same way. Once your relationship reaches an intimate level, the wheelchair user will specifically explain their abilities and limitations.
Able-bodied people are not used to the daily obstacles wheelchair users face every day. It is easy to complain throughout the date about the parking situation, people staring, limitations and other obstacles experienced throughout the date. The wheelchair user understands the obstacles. Remember not to complain about having to do things differently than usual.
Work through obstacles together
Understand there will be obstacles during your date and relationship. Work as a team to overcome obstacles and issues that arise. Working together creates a strong bond between both of you that encourages trust.
Don’t act like a caregiver
Some wheelchair users require a caregiver to assist them with a variety of situations. If your date requires a caregiver, they most likely have one hired already. You don’t have to behave as if you are the caregiver. The best way to do this is to focus on the person instead of the wheelchair and other issues. Your date will let you know if they need help every once in a while. However, they will not require you to feed them or assist them with bathroom duties and other personal issues.
Once you develop a relationship with a wheelchair user, you will need to make your home wheelchair accessible. Assuming you will be inviting your date to your home at one point or another. If you live in a home or on the first floor of an apartment building you will want to focus on the entryway, a portable ramp may be required. You will also want to take other steps including organizing your furniture and making your bathroom accessible. Dating a wheelchair user does take a few extra considerations compared to an able-bodied person, but it will be worth the effort when you meet someone truly amazing.