This post was written by Astrid. Astrid (she/her) is a queer disabled woman living on unceded Gadigal land.
Everyone has a right to safety in their relationships and to explore their sexuality. This includes disabled people. The social model of disability sees disability as a result of the barriers that cause people with impairments to be unable to fully participate in society.
Disabled people don’t need to be fixed or cured – society needs to remove the barriers. The amazing thing about the disability community is our diversity. Everyone’s situation is different. You are the expert on your life – what does and doesn’t work for you.
Everyone has the right to safety and respect. That includes when you’re dating, hooking up, or in relationships. Unfortunately, disabled people are at greater risk of sexual and relationship violence. It can be hard to talk about these things, but it’s important that we do – “Violence thrives in invisibility.”
Some of the factors which can contribute to high rates of violence experienced by disabled people or make it hard to get support include:
- The impact of ableism and rigid ideas about gender and sexuality
- If someone is relying on the person using violence financially, or for personal care, it can be difficult to leave the relationship or access help
- Services may not be accessible, or provide information in accessible formats
There can be a lack of education provided to disabled people about healthy relationships and self-advocacy
So, how do you navigate dating and disability?
Disabled people are just like anyone else – we want human connection. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. But before you do, have a think about yourself – what are you looking for? Casual sex, a chance to meet new people and have some fun, or a long term relationship? What are you looking for in the person/s you meet? What things would be deal breakers for you?
You can decide how much about your disability you disclose, and whether you want to disclose your disability on your profile on dating apps, when you first talk to someone, or when you meet them.
As in any relationship, the important thing is to communicate. Let people know what touches and language you are and aren’t comfortable with. You are allowed to set boundaries and have your safety and body respected. The best time to bring this up is early on – if you are engaging in sex play, decide ahead of time what you do and don’t want to do, and let your partner/s know at before you get started. This can be done as part of discussions on consent. And remember to look after your sexual health. ACON has information about sexual health, and you can order sexual play packs to be sent anywhere in NSW (for free).
You don’t have to “settle” for a relationship you’re not comfortable with just because the person seems accepting of your disability.
Remember, you are a person with equal worth and rights as anyone else. You have the right to safety and respect and relationships. You have the right to say no to touch you are uncomfortable with. You do not owe anyone sex because they provide care for you.
Chat with other disabled people about their experiences. The disability community is strong and supportive. If you don’t have anyone in your life who you can share your experience with, reach out to people online. There are groups like Sydney Queer and Disabled.
If you need support, there are places you can go for help.
Support services include
- People with Disability Australia (PwDA) offers support to people with disability experiencing relationship violence. You can call PwDA on 1800 843 929 (toll free) Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, and speak to one of their intake officers, or fill in their online Information request form
- Rainbow Sexual, Domestic and Family Violence Helpline: 1800 497 212. For anyone from the LGBTIQ+ community whose life has been impacted by sexual domestic and/or family violence. Available 24/7.
- 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732. Support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. Available 24/7.
- ACON (9206 2000), Monday to Friday (9am – 6pm)
- QLife (1800 184 527), 3pm – Midnight every day
- 13YARN (13 92 76), 24/7 support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
You can also find our national service finder here.
If you’re in a relationship with a person with a disability, check out this blog about how to be an awesome ally.