Members of the Trailblazers network set out to provide a balanced, honest account of what it is like to be disabled and single, in a relationship, or married.
But they also wanted to boost the confidence of young disabled people and encourage them to “explore the world of dating and relationships”.
Several of the network describe their own relationship experiences in the report, including a young woman who met her current partner playing powerchair football, a disabled man who lost his virginity to a sex surrogate, and another Trailblazer who met her future husband while holidaying with friends in Magaluf.
Four-fifths of the 100 Trailblazers who completed a survey for the It’s Complicated report said they had never dated another disabled person.
The group – most of them wheelchair-users – began publishing their stories online in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, and were hoping to persuade other young disabled people to share their stories on 14 February itself through Facebook and Twitter*.
Trailblazer Jessica Berry describes in the report how she met her partner Matt online. They have been together for more than 14 months and Jessica gave birth to their daughter in December.
She says: “Being upset about my inadequacies and feeling insecure about my inferiorities compared with an able-bodied girl obviously occur from time to time, after all I am only human.
“Having a relationship with a disability is by no means easy, but it is definitely do-able and worth the effort.”
Zoe Hallam, who met her boyfriend Will at university, says: “You can’t ignore the fact that I’m disabled, as it permeates through pretty much everything we do to some extent.
“However, we are both generally able to take any obstacles in our stride and have become pretty good at predicting where things might get difficult.
“It’s been a learning experience for both of us.”
Trailblazer Carl Tilson opens up about his sex life in the report, describing how he lost his virginity with a sex surrogate.
He says: “I think it’s important to explore your sexual aspirations and it’s only natural to experience sex. I felt a boost of confidence and it helped my self-esteem. The only downside of hiring an escort is you don’t have that closeness as you would have in a relationship.‟
Among the concerns raised in the report, three out of four Trailblazers said the issue of disability and relationships had not been represented accurately in the media.
More than half of Trailblazers who responded said the easiest way to meet someone was online, with two-thirds saying they would reveal that they were disabled from the moment they began communicating with someone online.
But three-quarters of Trailblazers believed that other people’s opinions were an obstacle to forming a relationship, and nine out of 10 said they would feel more confident about dating if other people were more open-minded.
Half of those questioned thought it was easier to meet a partner through friends, while one-third said they would prefer to meet someone when out at bars, cafes or clubs.
Tanvi Vyas, project manager for Trailblazers, which is run by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: “Young disabled people have seen a number of high-profile portrayals of disability and dating in the media in recent years, but this tends to follow a very narrow line.
“We also encounter a lot of myths out there – that disabled people only date other disabled people and that severe disability is a barrier to a happy relationship.
“In the build-up to Valentine’s Day we have set out to ask people of all ages about their relationship experiences, advice and issues, and to use these stories to get a frank and open discussion going.
“We want to encourage young disabled people to have the confidence to put themselves out there and find out what is right for them.”
*Young disabled people can visit the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Facebook page and also use the Twitter hashtag #itscomplicated on Valentine’s Day (Friday 14 February)
12 February 2014