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Holland Bloorview’s Dear Everybody wants to end the stigma surrounding ableism and dating

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“There is this assumption out there that all disabled people are asexual—that we don’t date, we don’t love, we don’t have kids.”

Holland Bloorview's Dear Everybody wants to end the stigma surrounding ableism and dating

For many of us, dating has evolved into a realm that is easily accessible at our fingertips—literally. Thanks to the creation of apps and online forums, it’s no surprise that swiping left or right can be overwhelming to some with too many options. For others, it’s made dating much easier given the larger pool.

But for 21-year-old Jay—who uses they/them pronouns and identifies as queer and polyamorous—dating, even online, has become more arduous because of the stigma surrounding disability.

In fact, if you ask Jay to discuss the discrimination and ableism they’ve faced because of their disability, there are too many incidents to count. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Jay, who uses a power wheelchair to get around, has experienced their fair share of stares and whispers over more than two decades, much to their disdain.

I’ve had people literally come up to me and ask me why I’m going to places because of my disability, as if they think people with disabilities don’t have lives and that we just sit around and mope all day and feel sorry for ourselves,” they say.

Jay says these social aggressions are even more apparent when it comes to dating and relationships. Although Jay feels relief in recently coming out, they admit that dating is even more difficult given how people respond to them going out in public with their partners.

“There is this assumption out there that all disabled people are asexual: That we don’t date, we don’t love, we don’t have kids, we don’t have our own lives that don’t just revolve around our disability,” they say. “People think that all people with disabilities have is their disability.”

Growing up, it was often assumed that they would only date people who also had a disability—and for Jay, this isn’t a fair assumption or expectation. Dr. Amy McPherson, a senior scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, has spent some of her time studying the importance of sexual health conversations amongst kids and youth with disabilities.

Dr. McPherson recognizes that people with disabilities are indeed sexual beings, but during her studies, many youth with disabilities have told her that during sexual health classes at school, they’ve been told to leave because they won’t ever need this information. These are conversations Jay knows all too well.

That’s why campaigns like Holland Bloorview’s Dear Everybody are crucial to helping end the stigma for kids and youth with disabilities. In previous years, this campaign has encouraged brands and organizations to start including disability in the picture—namely in their advertisements and content. But this year, Dear Everybody hopes to take things a step further by addressing conversations surrounding ableism that perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination towards people with disabilities.

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This year, kids and youth with disabilities are helping kickstart conversations by sharing their lived-experience, in order for those who don’t live with disabilities to take it one step further in educating themselves on what ableism is and how they can end it. For some of these kids and youth, ableism shows up as the lack of accessibility in public spaces; in the erasure of the existence of invisible disabilities coupled with assumptions; or even in the exclusion of people with disabilities in sports and play.

As for Jay, these conversations are long overdue.

“I honestly believe Dear Everybody> are so important because [they enable us to] take our voices back from the world and [people who] constantly try to silence and exclude us from these important [discussions],” they say. “I’m not going to generalize that all disabled people are the same, but a lot of us feel excluded from the dating scene because of things like this. I know that it takes a lot for people, even if you’re not disabled, to get out there and date, but with all these misconceptions, it takes disabled people so much longer.”

Jay hopes that Dear Everybody can act as a starting point to help challenge assumptions by encouraging people to take the time to get to know people with disabilities and expand their knowledge about ableism and accessibility—especially when it comes to dating.

Get to know and amplify the voices of people with disabilities in relationships and don’t make assumptions that we can’t have relationships,” they say. “We want relationships and love, just like everybody else.”

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You can also help end the stigma and misconceptions. Visit www.deareverybody.ca to join the conversation. It’s time to end ableism—and you can start just by talking about it.

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