Two sisters create a dating app that aims to ‘make love accessible’

As she recovered from hip surgery, Jacqueline Child sent a message to a man she had met through a popular dating app. She wanted to let him know she couldn’t do anything too strenuous on their date, but they could have dinner together.

By Theresa Vargas – Washington Post

She still hasn’t forgotten the conversation that followed.

He asked how she had gotten injured. She told him she hadn’t. She explained that a connective-tissue disorder required her to have surgery.

“Well, I hope you’re not planning to have children,” he told her. “You shouldn’t pass that on.”

His words stunned her. She hadn’t even talked to her family or friends about whether she wanted children, and here was a man she barely knew speaking to her about eugenics.

“It was horrible,” she said. “It was the most invasive question when literally we had exchanged two messages to each other.”

It also wasn’t her only bad experience with dating apps. She had started dating another man she met through an app and the relationship was progressing – until he told his mom about her disability.

“She told him to run, and he told me,” Child said. “It was just very traumatic and a real eye-opener, and I know I’m not the only one who has experienced things like that.”

It’s not easy for the 28-year-old to talk publicly about how she was treated. For a long while, she didn’t even want to share with people close to her how difficult she was finding dating. But on the day we talked, she explained that she has come to believe these types of honest conversations are needed. She also gets that people need to know about her past dating experiences to understand why she and her sister, Alexa Child, have been working hard to change the future dating experiences of other people.

The two have launched Dateability, a dating app designed for disabled and chronically ill people. It carries the slogan “Making love accessible.” As the sisters tell it, they created the app in hopes of establishing a welcoming space for people to enter the dating pool without having to worry about constantly encountering ableist attitudes and behaviour.

“The bottom line is disabled people have sex, and they are worthy of sex and relationships,” Jacqueline Child said. “And I think a lot of people forget about that or don’t want to think about that. But it’s a really important conversation.”

Time will reveal how many people will be drawn to the new app. When it launches, users in the Washington D.C. region will be allowed to connect with users across the nation and Canada and Mexico, but the hope is that so many people eventually sign up that a person will need only to look at members in their geographical region to find a match. The app also comes at a time when the pandemic has caused many people to have chronic illness and disabilities.

But no matter what happens with the app, the creation of it promises to bring valuable discussions about accessibility and ableism when it comes to the dating scene and amplify those conversations that have already been happening.

“Bumble, Tinder, e-Harmony: Make your platforms more inclusive of people with disabilities,” reads the title of a petition Jerusha Mather created.

“People with disabilities (PWD) are often discriminated against by other users on dating platforms, and not seen as potential partners,” Mather, who has cerebral palsy, wrote on the petition. “I’m calling on Tinder, Bumble, e-Harmony to take steps to increase visibility of PWD using their apps and educate their users to be more open and inclusive. Just like the next person, I too am looking for a romantic partner and want to be in love. People with disabilities have the potential to become great partners. We bring love, care and passion to our relationships just like anyone else. We want to be lovers, parents and experience fulfilling relationships.”

I spoke with Mather through email, and she said she believes all dating apps should be inclusive.

“Mainstream dating shows should also include people with disabilities,” she said. “This will really help people understand disabilities and encourage them to be more inclusive.”

If you talk to Alexa Child, a public-interest attorney who graduated from Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., she will tell you that her sister is a catch: “She’s beautiful and kind and very thoughtful. People who have known us for years, they can never believe that Jacqueline is still single and can’t find somebody.”

But the 32-year-old, who lives with her sister, has watched Jacqueline have one bad encounter after another with potential dates and grown frustrated on her behalf. Then late last year, Jacqueline decided to get a surgery that would leave her with a feeding tube, making it so that she could no longer eat dinner out, and they both worried what that might do to her dating life.

That’s when they came up with the idea for the app. Alexa described it as a way for them to “take the power and control back.”

In the week that Jacqueline spent recovering in the hospital after her surgery, they worked on the app together.

“I don’t think we would have been able to do it individually, but as a team we could do it,” Jacqueline said. “It’s very unique that we live together and that we’re also best friends.”

“Even though we are so similar, in a lot of ways we are also so different and we complement each other very well,” Alexa said. “Jaqueline is good at marketing and graphic design and being creative. I bring in the legal aspect and business mind.”

The two decided to not restrict who could use the app, because they didn’t want to require people to submit confidential medical information or exclude people who might have relatives and friends with disabilities. But they said they plan to take reports of abuse and harassment seriously and offer safety tips through the app.

The sisters have created an Instagram page to offer updates about the app and have spent the past several weeks letting people know it’s coming. So far, they said, the reaction has been positive. Some of the responses they have received: “This is so needed.” “I can relate to this so much.” And “How is it 2022 and we don’t have a dating app for disabled people?”

Jacqueline said she is excited not just to launch the app but also to use it. She hopes to connect with someone through the platform who sees her disability but doesn’t see only that.

“I am the first to say I am who I am because I’m disabled,” she said, “but I am also much more than that.”



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