*Throughout this article, I use language like Crip to refer to disabled people. This is the language that I, myself, use to refer to disability. It has been reclaimed by disability activists to remove the negative connotations with the word “cripple”. Always ask how a person with a disability wants to have their disability mentioned BEFORE using any disability-centric terms.
Maybe you’re in high school or college right now, and you’ve seen this *really* attractive person in the hallway, or keeping you distracted during an endlessly long Zoom class. They make you smile and laugh all the time, and you totally want to hang out with them, but you know they have a disability, and that scares you a little bit. You finally muster up courage to ask them out for coffee at the cafeteria or your local Starbucks. You know that they’re cool, and you’re pretty sure their disability doesn’t bother you, but you have NO IDEA how to bring it up with them, or to talk with them about it.
Well, don’t worry about it, because I’m here to act as your gimpy guide and help you by providing tips and tricks on how you should talk about disability to your crip crush. Let’s jump right in, friends!
You may be thinking, “What do you mean, Andrew? When I was a kid, my parents told me to NEVER bring up someone’s disability because that’s rude, and you want me to ask about it?!”
I know, I know this advice goes against everything you’ve been taught, right? Hear me out, though. If you’re hanging out with your deliciously disabled date, I think you can ask about it. In fact, I think you should ask about it, BUT - you need to do so respectfully and with care.
When asking about your date’s disability, please don’t start by saying, “What happened to you?” or “What’s wrong with you?”. These types of questions are really intrusive and unkind; they assume that the person became disabled (a lot of us are born disabled) AND questions like this imply that disability is wrong or bad, which it isn’t at all! Questions like these can really put your date on the spot. Also, some people have invisible disabilities that we may not be able to see.
Instead of asking those intrusive questions, you might try something like: “I would love to learn more about your disabilities, if you’re comfortable.”
Asking about it in this way is perfect BECAUSE it gives the disabled person agency over how they want to talk about disability or what they feel safe sharing.
A lot of disabled people use humour to navigate their experiences of disability when hanging out with non-disabled people. I do it all the time to try and lighten the mood, and to show my date that my disability isn’t a huge tragedy, and that I live with it every day.
Sometimes on dates, I might make a crip quip like, “Well, we could go for a walk, but I can’t walk anywhere, so…” There have been SO many times where I have joked like this and my poor, unsuspecting date had no idea what to do. I can see them freeze, unsure whether laughing would be inappropriate or not.
For me, as a disabled person, I want you to laugh with me, because it shows that you understand there’s humour in the disability experience, and I believe that if we can laugh about it together, it will help us create a greater bond.
One of the best pieces of advice that I can offer on that first date with a disabled person, is seemingly so simple, but it takes a lot of skill - so listen up.
When you start talking about your date’s disability experiences with them, you might have the urge to immediately jump in with a story like, “Oh yeah, I was in a wheelchair once when I broke my leg”. Take my advice here and DO NOT DO THIS! By sharing a story like this, you’re actually minimizing the disabled person’s experiences. Using a wheelchair after breaking your leg is not at all the same as living with a disability day in and day out.
The best way to listen is to let the disabled person share how disability impacts them, wait till they are fully finished talking, and then say something like, “Thanks for sharing. I like learning about how your disabilities play a role in your life.” By just listening to them and allowing them to share, you will learn how to better understand their experiences of disability, and this will make your friendship or relationship much more fruitful.
I hope this blog has given you some insight into how to talk about disability on a date, so you can approach that hottie on wheels, that cutie with a cane or that invisibly disabled person you’ve been wanting to chat up and see where it goes!
Disability Awareness Consultant