Unless you are lucky enough to have met your significant other in a traditional way like in a church, a social circle, or club; like many of us, you may have turned to online dating. What I will talk about in this article can certainly apply to anyone of us, straight or gay, but sometimes the latter presents some interesting challenges. Here are a few of my own experiences.
First, if you are reading this yourself as a visually impaired or blind person using assistive technology, we will assume that you have at least some of the basic skillsets needed to navigate some of the dating websites or apps that are out there. If you find yourself lacking in this area or if you have a friend or family member assisting you to access this information, assistive technology training is available to you through your local rehabilitation services for the blind agency. For assistance locating the agency nearest you, contact the APH ConnectCenter by calling (800) 232-5463 or visit the APH Directory of Services and search by your location here.
Although accessibility issues will most likely always present themselves, more times than not, mainstream sites are at least moderately accessible with the use of screen magnification, screen readers, refreshable braille devices, smartphones, etc.
Dating is complicated, just ask anyone who has ever dated. Meeting someone online actually can be liberating in a way though. There is no question if the person with whom you are engaging is gay or straight, or the potential awkward situation of meeting someone who does not share your desires. Usually when creating a dating profile, you are given the opportunity to give as much detail about yourself as you’d like and describe what type of person you are looking for. Chances are, if someone is reading your profile, they are looking for something similar.
Find Your Dating App
I will refrain from mentioning any dating apps or websites here, as there are many and they are varied. By searching the internet, you should be able to find a dating app or website that fits your identity, goals, and interests. You can perform a Google search with the word “dating” along with a brief description of the type you are seeking and you’ll likely get results that match.
Building Your Profile
Once you have identified a website or app, think about how you would like to present yourself and post a picture. I use my iPhone to take photos I want to post in my profile, because the speech function of VoiceOver provides audio description and guidance for taking a good selfie. You might take a couple of these in different settings such as inside, outdoors, in different lighting, or with different clothing. Even though pictures may not do those of us who are blind much good, the population at large relies on them to identify with what they find appealing. If you are not confident with your selfie-taking abilities, it may be a good idea to ask a friend or family member whom you trust to take a few photos of you that show off your best features.
So how will we present ourselves when writing a description? Are you a blind person named Jake, or are you a person named Jake who happens to be blind? Some may choose to put that little nugget right up front. This decision is entirely up to you, but I will share a technique and the reasons why I do not put that bit of information out there at first. Unless you have lived in a world with a visually impaired or blind person, there are a lot of preconceived notions or stereotypes that I wouldn’t want to cloud a person’s judgement of me before I’ve had a chance to present myself to them as a man, an intellectual, a conversationalist with many varied interests, and so on. My blindness does not make up who I am as a person. I am a vital contributing member of society who works, has a network of friends, who loves the outdoors, walks on the beach, hiking, biking, and fishing, just like many others.
What and When to Share About Blindness or Low Vision
Would you believe on more than one occasion that I was turned down for a date when I mentioned the fact that I was a blind guy? I experienced ghosting (when someone stops responding to messages entirely without warning), and one man even said, “I’m sorry, but I need you to be able to look in my eyes and see me seeing you. I couldn’t deal with you not being able to see me”. And you know what? I thanked him for being honest. Obviously, his substance did not run deep, and I feel as though I dodged a bullet. Another reason I hold this information back is in the online dating world, unless you’re lucky, there will be many conversations started that do not end up leading anywhere, and the point would be moot.
It Starts with a Conversation…
Usually, I might attempt to chat the person up for a while first, learn a bit about them, share interests, and answer their questions about me. Oftentimes, without realizing it, the conversation may organically open a door to tell the person about my visual impairment. They may send you a photo of themselves and want you to comment on it for example. This is a great opportunity for you to say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, perhaps I forgot to tell you that I’m visually impaired. Unfortunately, pictures are not of much use to me. It’s something that I’m used to and is no big deal for me and I tend to forget. Could you describe your photo to me?” Or any variation of that works too.
And Getting to Know Each Other…
If the conversation doesn’t lead in that direction, but does indicate that a friendship may be forming or an in-person meeting might actually happen, I might ask them to have a conversation with me on the phone. If they ask why, I just explain that I have something I would like to tell them but want to do so in person. Let them hear your voice, how you sound, and your confidence. You may have a much easier time explaining and answering their questions in person than through text or e-mail. If the person has those preconceived notions of a blind person, then I don’t want their first impression of me to be clouded. I want their first impression to be of me, Jake, the guy who loves the outdoors, Jake, who is involved in his community, Jake, who enjoys white wine, and Jake, who loves his family, friends, his dogs, and walks in the park, and Jake, who also happens to be blind. I want them to like me as a person, and not pass up the chance at getting to know me just because I am visually impaired. If it’s not a big deal to you, then it shouldn’t be a big deal to them.