UK Based Travel & Disabled Blogger

Why Are Disabled People Perceived as Unworthy of Love?

As a blogger, sharing parts of my life on my website and social media is a choice I’ve made. A decision I made when I started my blog and continue to make each time I share my experiences living with a disability to my readers and followers.

Similarly, it’s also my choice what I don’t share.

But my goal has always been to be open and honest, raise awareness and help others in the disabled community whether that’s related to accessible travel, Muscular Dystrophy, wheelchair accessibility or general disability topics. I’m always happy to answer questions and help if I can.

What I don’t find helpful or of great value is sharing the very personal, intimate details about my life and relationship.

Emma in her powered wheelchair with her boyfriend kneeling beside her holding a phone up while taking a selfie of them together. Emma is giving him a kiss on the cheek. They are outside a Cathedral in Edinburgh. Text over the image reads " Why are disabled people perceived as unworthy of love. Simplyemma.co.uk"
Emma and Allan outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. Image by Visit Scotland.

Disability and Relationships

Yes, I’m in a relationship, and yes I share photos and mention my partner in my posts. But I’m not the only one. Millions of people do the same.

However, because myself and other disabled people are sharing snippets of our lives online it’s often interpreted as an open invitation to ask invasive or inappropriate questions.

Simply because we’re disabled and we’re seen as oddities as if our lives are radically different and that curiosity often manifests itself in ignorance.

We are asked personal questions that wouldn’t be asked if we weren’t disabled and in a relationship.

Recently, I received multiple questions from someone about my relationship. At first, I didn’t respond because I wasn’t quite sure how to take the questions? Were they asking because they genuinely needed advice?

Before I could respond they found another blog post and asked the same questions again. Then on another blog post and again on another. Almost demanding that I answer “this time”.

“How much can you do for yourself?“

“How much do you contribute to the relationship in your physical condition?“

“Do you have a job?“

“What if you were just mild mentally retarded, would the relationship be the same?“

Disabled people can and do work. We have value and bring value to our relationships. Value to our families, to our work and more.

We have value simply by being ourselves. We don’t have to “physically” contribute in order to be of value.

Just because we may need help with certain things doesn’t mean we are of less value to our loved ones. Needing help isn’t a bad thing. We are all going to need help at some point in our lives.

Also, please stop using the word ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’. It is considered very offensive and disrespectful.

Emma a white woman in a powered wheelchair and Allan a white man are sitting at a kiosk in Princes Garden, Edinburgh. They are sitting at a table facing the camera. Allan is holding an umbrella over them and they are both smiling.
Emma and Allan sitting at a kiosk in Princes Garden, Edinburgh. Image by Visit Scotland.

Dating someone with a disability

For years I’ve seen other disabled people online as well as some of my disabled friends experience similar interactions.

So I asked my followers on social media to share their experiences and was flooded with responses.

“What’s it like sleeping with someone with only one leg?”

“I’ve had first dates ask if I can even have sex”

“I’ve had people say my partner is only with me for a Motability car”

“When I was in a relationship I have been asked how we have sex and can I keep him pleased”

“Are you paying him to be your boyfriend”

“I’ve been asked a few times if my hips dislocate when I have sex, by people I barely know (on learning my joints dislocate quite easily which is a big reason for needing the wheelchair)”

It’s frustrating that as disabled people, we’re often perceived as or told that we are undesirable and unworthy of love.

There are those who assume we are sexless beings, who can only secure relationships through pity and that those relationships can never be physical in nature.

A common theme many disabled people and myself included experience, is people telling us how lucky we are to have a partner.

A friend of mine has experienced this but told me people will say this “sometimes when they know literally nothing about him, he could be an abusive asshole for all they know but I have a boyfriend. How lucky”.

They have even had patients and nurses ask if they were “in the chair” when he met her and when she tells them no, they say how lucky she is that he’s still with her.

It’s incredibly insulting and implies disabled people are burdens or less valuable human beings.

Emma and Allan sitting at a kiosk in Princes Garden, Edinburgh. They are sitting at a table with their backs to the camera. Allan is holding an umbrella over them.
Emma and Allan sitting at a kiosk in Princes Garden, Edinburgh. Image by Visit Scotland.

False assumptions, stereotypes & disability stigma

Being asked these questions face to face is bad enough, but it can be far more invasive with the anonymity afforded by the internet.

Whereas in person, most of the time, they wouldn’t ask or say such things.

This isn’t always the case. My friend said, “sometimes the unsaid can be loud”. She remembers being asked all the time when she and her partner would have kids. But now she uses a wheelchair, no one ever asks them. Although she is glad they don’t ask, it doesn’t go unnoticed.

At social gatherings she would always be asked what she did for a job, no one asks her now. They still ask others, they ask her partner, but don’t ask her. Why is this?

Do they automatically assume because she has a disability that she doesn’t work? Do they worry about making the person feel awkward if they don’t work?

There is so much stigma and preconceived ideas that disabled people don’t/can’t have fulfilling lives, be happy and healthy, be loved and be in love. Just because we are disabled.

My disability means I am a full-time powered wheelchair user and require someone to help me with aspects of my daily life. But that doesn’t dehumanise me or make me hate my disability.

I’ve had a pretty good life up until now and continue to do so while striving for a happy and fulfilling life filled with work, a busy social life and lots of amazing travel opportunities.

And most importantly, with friends, family and a partner that love me. A relationship with me can be as fulfilling as any other relationship involving a non-disabled person.

So this is my public service announcement…

Disabled people are worthy of love.

More on this topic…

Being In An Interabled Relationship: Q&A With My Caregiving Boyfriend
Disability, Sex & Dating As A Wheelchair User
Love In The Time Of Dystrophy

You might also enjoy

Am I More Than My Disability? #WhatMakesMe
How to Feel Confident in a Wheelchair
Disabled Parent: What It’s Like Being A Disabled Mum

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Emma in her powered wheelchair with her boyfriend kneeling beside her holding a phone up while taking a selfie of them together. Emma is giving him a kiss on the cheek. They are outside a Cathedral in Edinburgh. Text over the image reads " Why are disabled people perceived as unworthy of love. Simplyemma.co.uk"

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Meet Emma

Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

6 Responses

  1. Great read.

    And to all those strange folk demanding answers to personal questions. Stop being creeps. Your curiosity about or romantic life is troubling. And just because you want an answer, you’re not entitled to one

  2. I get asked all the time how my boyfriend and I can have sex. A lot of people also assume he’s either my brother or my dad. So much ableism!!

  3. This is a wonderful post and you are doing important work here Emma. Most people want to be able to contribute and why would we not want to live a caring world where no one is dehumanised and we look after one another so that we can all have a good quality of life.

  4. People are so rude! The only reply I can think of to such questions is asking them back if they can work/be in a relationship/etc. when they are so entitled, rude, and full of prejudice.

  5. Pre covid I was so used to being ignored by those irritating market research people, that when one did stop me, I actually thanked her for not ignoring me just because I was in a wheelchair.
    I go swimming outdoors regularly as I’m fortunate enough to be able to manage the bit between chair and water – the number of total strangers who think they should comment on this is huge. Some are positive, but some…. Anything from “you’ll get cramp and drown” to “how do you manage to swim”, via the usual “what’s wrong with you”.

  6. I am glad to see this powerful essay published again. It has given me much food for thought. I was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer and told I wouldn’t have but two months to two years to live. I’ve had many operations, and my husband has been totally supportive–but strangers! Oy. I have accomplished a lot, but now I am back with a walker and wheelchair and struggling more. People feel entitled, as if I’m a child and I have no option but to answer their nosey questions. Sometimes, there’s no polite way to answer, so I ignore them. On my 70th birthday, I hiked up Arthur’s Seat with an overland walker and friends. No one was sure I could do it, but I did. On the way back, I heard the best comment I’ve ever gotten, “Brave Lassie!” It was happily accepted.

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