When you are blind or partially sighted, dating apps provide lots of opportunities to meet new people – but many of us find the process scary and worry about dipping our toes in the digital dating pool.
So, if you’re thinking about giving online dating a whirl, here are a few pointers, a real-life story and some reassuring advice.
1. First, stay safe.
Use reputable platforms, ideally, those that carry out identity checks on members and monitor messages to suspend members who break their online conduct rules.
Don’t give out your phone number too quickly. Exchange messages on the site first to get a better sense of what the person is like.
Meet your match in a safe public place the first few times, not in private, and tell a friend where you’re going. Most importantly, trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, take it seriously. Make a polite but speedy exit.
2. If you’re worried about accessibility, use specialist platforms that are designed for disabled or blind people.
Glimmer's mission is to create a safe, and accessible place for people to be open about and proud of who they are. Their platform offers the option for users to disclose their disability up front so there’s no anxiety about when to tell a match that you have sight loss. Other good options are the Facebook group VI Singles, or the websites Disabled Dating 4 U or Whispers4U.
3. Many people with sight loss don’t feel that it defines who they are. To broaden your opportunities, go to the sites with the highest volume of users.
According to Wikipedia, an estimated 50 million people use Tinder every month. It’s not totally accessible, with some functions not compatible with Apple's in-built screen reader VoiceOver, so blind users may need to get assistance from a trusted friend to set up a profile – or search for potential matches.
You may also want to ask a friend for advice on what picture shows you in the best light. Think about how you want to be portrayed in the shots and what aspects of your life you want to show.
4. Don't spend too long on messaging before you meet. It can give a false sense of how well you will get on with a match.
It's easy to be witty and flirty in writing and feel attracted to someone online, but then find it all falls flat when you meet in the real world, or even when you speak on the phone. Sometimes, a good potential match depends on the first conversation, and for many people, the right voice is an essential part of the parcel.
5. Remember, dating apps may be massively popular, but they aren’t the only way to meet people.
Look for new connections, join a special interest group or club, strike up a conversation in a coffee shop or use social media to find like-minded people. But if you don’t feel like doing any of this, you’re not alone. A 2017 Mintel report suggested that 70 per cent of singles in the UK hadn’t actively tried to find a partner in the previous 12 months – and that’s OK too.
Dave has sight loss and has tried a whole range of different apps: Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Plenty of Fish and Match.com. He chose not to disclose his sight loss on his dating profiles. “It doesn’t define me as a person, and I felt any real match wouldn’t care,” Dave said.
Dave had to get used to feeling objectified in the beginning, as well as dealing with casual rejections, which he found unpleasant. He eventually got a few matches, but nothing came of them.
It was after using Tinder for six months that Dave matched with Sarah, and they clicked. They exchanged numbers, chatted via WhatsApp and over the phone, and eventually met up.
Sarah, who is fully sighted, got to know Dave over the months and did not find that his sight loss affected her feelings about him. Sarah moved in with Dave in April 2019 and now they are both very happy and settled (and both have gleefully deleted their dating profiles and apps).
Dave says, “Sarah is understanding, and happily helps me when I struggle to see. She got to know me for who I am, discovering how many similarities and shared interests we have. So, I’d say that online dating is the accessible dating future for visually impaired people.”
(Dave and Sarah are real people but their names have been changed at their request for this story.)
Madleen Mann is one of RNIB's technology specialists in our Sight Loss Advice Service (and a dating expert on the side). She urges anyone who has doubts to give online dating a go: “It is not easy for people with sight loss to spot someone across the room who might have 'an eye' on us, but we’re capable of reading an online bio and seeing the words that attract us. Use the power of technology to allow love into your life and smile from the bottom of your heart with happiness!”