Life

How I Was Treated On Dating Apps Before and After Being in a Wheelchair

I've been in a wheelchair since last April, and I'm currently in a relationship – but I've often wondered what would happen if I found myself back on the market.
July 17, 2020, 11:05am
dating apps with disability
Photos courtesy of the author

My one experience of using a dating app could be an advertisement for not using dating apps.

In the brief period between splitting up with my ex and starting a relationship with my current boyfriend, I signed up to Bumble. I went on one date with a guy, who – of course – had lied about his height. I also ended up buying all the beers, and when I came back from the toilet he was swiping through Bumble. We did not go on a second date.

So, ahead of signing up to Tinder to find out whether people would treat me differently because of my disabilities, I didn't have the highest hopes. Given the fact I'm already in a relationship, I was essentially cat-fishing people – so I'll admit I was also not exactly the model dating app user. But let's collectively choose to ignore that for the sake of this experiment.

I've been in a wheelchair since April of last year, and have often wondered what would happen if I found myself back on the market. I'd heard anecdotally from other wheelchair users that people are either straight up ableist or fetishise you for your disability – neither of which are ideal – but I wanted to find out firsthand.

First, I made a profile of myself with a photo sans wheelchair, and then one of me in the wheelchair. I'd actually been on holiday right before I landed myself in hospital, so I had quite a few "decent" photos, i.e. the sort of images one might traditionally use on a Tinder profile. My second profile featured me in my more recent wheelchair glory.

To make the process as fair and "scientific" as possible, I blindly swiped right on 100 people per profile. I'm fairly sure that methodology isn't rigorous enough to get this study included in a peer-reviewed journal, but it was the best I could do to establish a baseline and work out percentages of "matches with wheelchair" versus "matches without".

dating disabled tinder

For the profile of my wheelchair-less alter-ego I wrote the most banal bio I could think of – "Loving life around London" – and used some pictures of me very clearly standing up.

I did feel a pang of guilt as I started matching with people, knowing full well that I was never, ever going to go on a date with them, so decided to save one last shred of my own ethics by not messaging anyone back. The good news is: that was not difficult, because all the chat sucked.

Of a potential 100 matches, I matched with 41 people, which is fair enough. My ego isn't too bruised.

dating app while disabled

Next was the bit I was nervous about. I hit delete on my account, saying goodbye to non-disabled Tinder Meg and hello to disabled Tinder Meg. I had absolutely no idea what lay in store. In all my pictures I made it very clear that I'm in a wheelchair. If that wasn't enough, I also spelled it out in my bio: "As you can probably tell from the pictures, I am in a wheelchair."

I also decided that I was going to message these guys a bit, because I didn't think they would jump straight into a) being ableist, or b) fetishising me without an invitation (again, my methodology is not watertight, I realise that).

One thing I noticed almost immediately was that the number of matches I got went down. Way down. I'm pretty sure my face hasn't changed due to my disability – and my bio was way less basic, which has to count for something – so it had to have been down to the wheelchair.

In total, I got 22 matches out of a potential 100 – almost half the number of my non-disabled counterpart.

I have to admit: even though this experiment didn't have any real-life outcomes, I was still annoyed by the disparity. The idea that people out there were judging me at first glance, based on my ability to walk, was not a nice feeling at all. But when it came to the messages I received on this profile, I was pleasantly surprised. I realise now that anybody ableist probably wouldn't have matched with me in the first place. Still, I was expecting to get DMs from people immediately asking why I was in a wheelchair, but that didn't happen. I actually had to mention it to people to get a response – turns out it doesn't matter as much to people as I thought it would.

It goes without saying that my disabled experiences will differ to other people's experiences. But it's good to know that, if I do become single again, dating apps might not be the ableist hellholes I was expecting.

@megrozfozz