Dateability’s New Dating App Helps Disabled And Chronically Ill Find Love
For lonely hearts living with a disability or long-term health condition, the world of dating apps are a cruel and unforgiving place
Prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes from others, worries about how and when to disclose a disability to a prospective date and straight-out digital platform inaccessibility can all contribute to anxiety and sarmassophobia (fear of dating and relationships) amongst disabled singles.
Dedicated disabled dating websites have existed for some time now, but these are not without their drawbacks—tending to consist of a low volume of profiles skewed towards the more severe end of the disability spectrum and a plethora of catfish romance scam profiles aimed at deceiving the vulnerable.
Sisters Jacqueline and Alexa Child cofounded the world’s first modern disabled dating app—Dateability, which launched across North America towards the end of 2022—to alter this landscape for good.
In contrast to many existing online disabled dating websites built from white label templates with little care and attention paid towards the user experience— the Colorado-based company was constructed from the ground up with the lived experience of disability being front and center.
Jacqueline has lived with a range of chronic health conditions since the age of 14 including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, gastroparesis and trigeminal neuralgia. The 28-year-old entrepreneur recalls her previous experiences of online dating as being anything but positive:
“Once I told a guy I was chatting to on a dating app that I have a connective tissue disorder and he went on to tell me that I should never have kids because it would be selfish to pass on any genetic disorder,” recounts Jacqueline.
She continues, “I’ve also had the experience of getting to know someone and us starting to like each other – only for his mom to tell him not to get involved with a girl with a chronic illness because he would never enjoy a fun life again.”
By 2021, Jacqueline was facing further life, and indeed dating, complexities as she prepared to have a feeding tube placed in her abdomen.
“I had this conversation with my sister Alexa about having a lot of fears around what that looks like in a dating context,” she recalls. “I already can’t do a whole lot and we live in Colorado, where everyone is so very active which has really hindered my dating experience. One day, Alexa just suggested that we make the app ourselves.”
For such a delicate, intimate and niche segment of the world of personal relationships, Alexa (32) feels that it’s her sister’s unique experiences and perspectives that can make Dateability a winner within a chronically under—addressed market.
Estimating the potential user base to be in the region of 5 million in the U.S. alone based on 60 million people with disabilities living in the country, Alexa says, “I believe that behind every successful venture is something personal. Personal motivation, personal experience and personal understanding. In the dating world, we’ve seen this with the founder stories of apps like Bumble and Tinder. A lot of disabled dating websites lacked that personal story but in Dateability we have just that.”
Welcoming to all
Amongst a range of other features, Dateability is entirely LGBTQ+ friendly and, through its “Deets” descriptor, treads that fine line between disclosing enough information for comfort and transparency but not so much that it strays into the overly personal.
For example, rather than asking users to declare a medical condition like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy – users add vaguer descriptions like mobility aid or food allergy.
Importantly, rather than being for just a specific segment of the disability community in the way dating and friendship apps like Hiki serve the neurodiverse community— Dateability is a pan-disability app designed to serve bodies and minds of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
To bolster its accessibility, the app is available on Android and IOS along with a web browser version as PC users with disabilities often deploy third-party assistive technology tools that are unavailable on phones.
Nia Williams is a Director at Miss Date Doctor, a U.K.—based organization linking clients with accredited and experienced dating coaches.
“Traditionally, people with disabilities may not have been able to find active and engaging profiles on disabled dating websites, which can lead to feelings of frustration and disillusionment,” Williams says. “There are many challenges that can make disabled dating websites a less appealing option for many disabled individuals, but it’s important to remember that everyone deserves to find love and companionship, regardless of their condition.”
She further adds, “It’s certainly not naïve to assume that people with disabilities may want to date each other, as some individuals may find comfort and understanding in a relationship with someone who shares their experiences.”
Alexa feels the app has the potential to expand rapidly by riding on the coattails of the post-Covid-19 zeitgeist—when everyone felt vulnerable and slow-burning lockdown dating played out exclusively on video conferencing platforms.
“We know that in any business—timing is key,” says Alexa. “We feel we got in at the right time when inclusivity and dating apps are being talked about because, during Covid-19, nobody was able to just go out and meet other people in bars.”
In the near future, the sisters hope to launch the app in Australia and Europe and add new features such as the introduction of a friendship logic in recognition of the fact that, in addition to experiencing barriers forming romantic relationships, people with disabilities sometimes struggle to form new platonic friendships too due to isolation.
Jacqueline is excited when expressing her hopes for the future:
“It’s so important for us in the coming year that we grow our community so it’s big enough to generate that meaningful and engaging numbers game like you have on mainstream dating platforms. That’s exactly how Grindr eventually grew out of a small segment of the LGBT community.”
The numbers game aspect is key and the business model lends itself to the potential of a snowball effect if the disability community begins to observe a significant presence of high-quality diverse dating profiles reflective of how they view themselves and what they might be looking for in a potential partner.
To date, disabled people have been broadly invisible to each other on both mainstream and specialist dating apps but perhaps, not for much longer. If this is the case it could be a game-changer for people with disabilities and lead to a few less ailing lonely hearts next time Valentine’s Day rolls around.