Love, Sex and Disability: The Attraction Factor

Girl in wheelchair on a date with a boy.For most High School students with disabilities life is very lonely. Far more than at any time in our lives, adolescents want to be accepted and liked. Unfortunately, the code for this is, “You need to be like everyone else.” And, the kid with the disability simply isn’t “like everyone else.”

I never dated or had a girl friend while I was in high school. With what I know today, there could have been a different outcome but as they say, “hind sight is 20/20.” My high school experience is best summed up by that line from the Janis Ian song: “At 17” “To those of us who knew the pain, of Valentines that never came, to those of us whose names were never called, when choosing sides for basketball.”

For most animal species, the “survival of the fittest” doctrine favors physical and mental fitness. When your life is filled with concerns about protecting your young and your food supply this is understandable. Although we humans are, for the most part, past the need to consider our spouse’s ability to kill enemies, we are still genetically programmed to favor physical fitness and prowess. We are also programmed to not consider mates with physical disabilities. Our programming says, “They are not fit to raise my offspring.” That’s the blunt truth of it. So, when you’re looking for a sexual partner as a person with a disability, you’re looking for somebody who is smart enough to look beyond their programming. Like your mother always said, “You should see the person, not what they look like.” But, that’s a difficult hill to climb for adolescents.

Unfortunately, we’re talking about some very deep programming. We’re hard wired to look for particular mates and removing that programming can take a lifetime. But, if you keep an open mind you will meet people who can look beyond your disability and you yourself can help people see beyond it. There are some things we can do that do make a huge difference in our attractiveness to others, so let’s talk about them:

1. Dress like the people you want to attract. Clothes signal your personal values, cleanliness, interests, etc. So, think of your dress as a costume that will link you to those who like that costume. You’ll notice I didn’t say “be neat,” “comb your hair,” because you might not want to attract that kind of person. Just know that you’ll attract those who dress like you do, so, attention to detail in this area is important.

2. Unless you really like people with low self esteem, be aware that you will be seen by some of these folks as “all I can get.” On the upside of being different, those who value their differences and see themselves as not “part of the crowd” will also be attracted to you because of your difference. So, just be aware and decide for yourself how you want to proceed.

3. Don’t seek a mate at bars and night clubs. As a former bar and restaurant owner, I can tell you that, as a general rule, these really aren’t places to meet healthy people. “Picking up somebody at the bar” seldom results in lifelong happiness. But, perhaps you’re not looking for lifelong happiness, so, take your chances. Just be aware that the bar scene is about people looking good for one another–putting on a costume. If you have a visible disability you will have limited success in that scene.

4. Your place in society determines how attractive you are to many people. If you have the position of President of the club, Director of a program, Congress woman or company CEO, people will be attracted to you. So, take on positions of authority/leadership if you’re so inclined because they will help others see you as competent. It’s not just that you are being visibly competent, but, others are attracted to you because they say in their minds, “If others elected her to this position, they think a lot of her, so, I should think a lot of her as well.” Again, much of this is a bit ridiculous, but, it is human nature and you should know about it. I use to volunteer to be the Secretary of organizations. Nobody wanted to to it because it required work. It gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my skills and put me in front of the group. That was invaluable experience and also helped me make friends. Yes, sometimes even female friends.

5. People are attracted to competence, ability, and skill. If you have competencies in your life that set you apart, they will also make you more attractive. Being a good writer, speaker, dancer, woodworker, sales person or social worker all make you attractive. So, doing things well counts! In a bow to our genetic programming, it is fair for somebody who is considering whether to raise a family with you to want to know that you are competent at things that will result in security for children and one another. And, if you have measurable skills you are also employable. Jobs are another identity that make you attractive to others. The first question most people ask, after they know your name, is, “What do you do?” It’s that important!

6. So much of physical attraction is hard wired to rule out disability and difference that most people will not consider you a suitable mate. You just need to learn to accept that and move on. If it helps, just console yourself with the fact that you wouldn’t want to date anybody that shallow anyway.

7. Pattern to be ware of. “Big Strong virile male attracted to weak small female. “Oh,” she says, “My hero.” This usually produces miserable people. He wants somebody to do whatever he says and she wants the freedom to be something different than she initially portrayed. The reverse of this is “nurturing female” wants to take care of disabled male. This also results in miserable people. These relationships usually end badly because eventually one partner gets tired. That’s right. Relationships that work usually require some level of equity of contribution. So, as the saying goes, “buyer beware.”

8.  Become comfortable with expressing who you are. People already notice you, so, make that an advantage.  Attracting the opposite sex, or even the same sex, is best done through your being.  Demonstrate honesty, kindness, humor and caring, and you will find people to love.  Learn to tell people that you care.  They won’t just figure it out.  Go out of your way to do good to others.  I know it sounds corny, but, use the visibility of your disability to become memorable as a person of quality.

So, there you have it!  Eight rules to de-mystify the dating and mate search process for people with disabilities. Because of the world’s tendency to exclude us from their list of eligible candidates, we often find the mates who do understand us are those with disabilities. This is understandable and often preferable. But, I would suggest that one measure of progress for us as we look into the future will be the percentage of people with disabilities whose spouses do not have them. This will be a measure of the extent to which we are truly being accepted by society and the extent to which we are learning to manage the impressions others have of us.


ASK MIKE: Dealing With Inane Comments

Hi Folks,

From time to time we receive questions here at The IMAGE Center which we answer.  Some of them are of such importance that we feel it necessary to publish them in our blog.  So, dipping into the mail bag, we find this recent request for assistance from Teresa, a parent who has a son with Downs Syndrome.

“For Image Center, if you could go ahead and get people to stop approaching me with inane comments that would be great…just this week a conversation about Jesse’s (my son’s) name…his middle name is James and yes he is named after the wild west gunslinger J so this goofball asks if I really think that’s appropriate “considering…..” funny though because I had the name picked before the diagnosis and when he was born they asked if I thought it was appropriate “in light of….”

What can I say? (insert dramatic sigh here….)

So again, if your agency can just deal with these folks…lololol I have the utmost confidence in you to get this task done.”

I replied as follows:

Well, of course, we’d be glad to help out.  Perhaps we need a set of disability rules.  If you follow these rules people and their comments won’t confuse you.  Let me see…

  • 1.  Once you become disabled or have a disabled child everything is about that!  Your entire life revolves around the disability.  Everything about you is easily understood because it all relates to your disability and the disability of your son.
    • Getting up in the morning.  “How do you do that given your disability?  Going to work?” “How do you get there, given that your son has a disability?”  See how this works?
  • 2. If you have a dog its because of your disability (see number 1 for understanding this one).  No pets–sorry!
  • 3. Oh, and did I mention that if you’re disabled all of your friends are as well!!  I know it should be obvious but perhaps more depth.  You only have friends with disabilities.  Your spouse is!  And when you go to events…You guessed it, they’re disability related events.
  • 4. Now to the original subject of your son’s name.  If you have a disability your name must be in some way either connected to your disability or at the very least, it must be chosen with your disability in mind.  To help clarify.  Somebody in a wheelchair would never have the last name Walker.  Somebody with an intellectual disability would never have the last name Fullbright.  A blind person would never be named Sawyer.  And, somebody with upper extremity limitations wouldn’t have the last name Armstrong.
  • We hope this helps to clarify what might have otherwise been misunderstood.  You might, without any real consideration of the matter, have simply thought that people with disabilities are, for the most part, just like everyone else.  Their disability would be simply one part of who they are, not necessarily a defining characteristic.  Kind of like your brown eyes or your body shape, disability would just be something you work into your over all being.  It could happen that your disability never much crosses your mind for days and days, being less important than say, paying the bills or picking up groceries after work.  In other words, you could have somehow concluded that people with disabilities are just like everyone else–same cares, concerns, interests and feelings.  And, you would have been right accept for the fact that people with disabilities confront those without them on a daily basis and are seldom allowed to simply be normal.  So, in that sense, their disability really does become central to who they are–an educator of the general public–willing or unwilling.

Teresa responds:

“How funny!  I am crying…YOU HAVE to post that!  This is classic.  This is going in a frame on my wall and I am going to change Jesse’s name to Jesse James Fullbright. I will be known as Teresa Downsmother.”

Thanks! You made my day.  Its nice to be able to laugh about these challenges.”

Another satisfied customer!

Thanks for reading, folks. If you’ve got a question for Mike and The IMAGE Center team you can send it to, or post it right on our facebook page at And please share us with your friends, family, and colleagues!

See ya next time on Ask Mike!


How to Get a Job: Part II

We received some great feedback for How to Get a Job: Part I. So without further ado, onto part II!

During your discussion the person you are interviewing may speculate about how a person with a disability could do the necessary work. Try to avoid this because the person probably has little or no knowledge of disability. You should assume responsibility and take control of the conversation by saying, “If you were to hire a person with a disability, he or she should take responsibility for knowing how to get the job done.” Then move on to the next question. Don’t get involved in guessing games about how this or that circumstance could be handled. You’re here to learn about the field, not to discuss disability. Usually potential employers will be impressed if you simply state that figuring out these details would be the responsibility of the would-be employee.

If there are loose ends–pieces of information, possible contacts, etc.–that aren’t immediately available, never leave it to a potential employer to get back to you. You should say, “I’m really hard to reach, so why don’t I call you? When would be a good time?” Try never to get yourself in the position of waiting for calls.

When you have asked your last question, get up and leave. More interviews have been ruined by staying too long than for almost any other reason. This employer is busy, and so are you, so get out as soon as you reasonably can.

Some people have suggested that this process is a bit dishonest. That is, if you disguise the fact that you’re looking for a job, isn’t that deceptive? Yes, it certainly would be deceptive, so that’s not what I am recommending. If you really don’t think you can learn anything by talking to middle managers and CEO’s, you shouldn’t conduct the interviews. I am proposing that the more information you gain the better able you will be to contribute to the field professionally and that these informational interviews are an honest process through which to educate yourself. I am also quite certain that, if you are going to get very far in any field, you need to know the people who are doing the hiring.

C. Follow your interview with a thank-you note and a résumé.  Your résumés should be crafted to address the particular job and employer. Focus on the work you have done that relates to this particular field, the problems you solved, the methods you used to solve them, and the results achieved. What jobs you have done are often of less interest in your résumé than the skills and traits you brought to the tasks. In our hamburger-flipper example, rather than talking about working full-time at McDonald’s, you might say: 2000-2002 Hamburger Flipper at McDonald’s. Reorganized grill area, which resulted in 11 percent efficiency increase. Reduced food waste by 3 percent. Was willing to work any and all shifts necessary. Received Company Award for Kitchen Cleanliness and implemented cleanliness plans throughout store, resulting in a 6 percent increase in customers.

You get the point. It’s all about not just showing what you did but the value it contributed to the organization. Employers are smart enough to know that, if you are a problem solver in one organization, you will do the same for them as well. Never mention pay rates in a résumé or if particular work was as a volunteer. It doesn’t matter and will only raise irrelevant issues.

Don’t take your résumé to the information-gathering interview. After your discussion you might find a different way to word a particular skill. Besides, sending your résumé later gives you another chance to put your name in front of the employer. If he or she liked you, that résumé will not only be on file but on his or her mind. And he or she will probably like you if you asked good questions, were interested in the answers, had done your homework about the company and field, and got the heck out of there when you were finished.

What will happen, and I can guarantee it, is that, as you interview people, you will learn lots of things about the field others may not know and increase your value to employers in the process. Your disability won’t be a major factor because you are not asking for a job; you are just collecting information. Employers hate job interviews as much as you do. You have taken the pressure off them to make a decision. In a far shorter time than by using old methods, you will have a job offer.

Is it really this simple? I and many others have found it so. I would say, though, that you need to invest time at it. Statistics show that two-thirds of job hunters spend five hours or less a week in the job search. Sorry, folks, that just won’t get the job done. You should be putting in at least twenty hours a week. You will have a four-to-one advantage over two-thirds of the people out there, and it will keep the process exciting and fun.

If you stick with it, you’re sure to make valuable contacts, learn a great deal about industries you’re interested in, and (eventually) find a job you can be proud of in a field you enjoy.

Happy Hunting!

Businessman offering a handshake to close the deal.


How to Get a Job: Part I

Successful young businesswoman giving thumbs up.

THERE may be an unemployment rate of 70 percent among people with disabilities, but my observation over the years has been that some people always seem to be working while others struggle and often give up along the way. The people who are always working use some form of the process I’ve outlined in parts I and II of the following post. For them the unemployment rate is 0 percent because they have eliminated the less productive parts of the job search and concentrated their energies on those activities most likely to yield results.

Like most of you, I started out (thirty years ago) looking for employment in all the traditional ways. I printed up résumés, had people read me the want ads (I’m blind), and went to job interviews. Job hunting was a lottery with very long odds.

I printed up résumés fifty at a time and was out knocking on doors from early morning to late afternoon. Mostly looking for a job was a series of disappointments culminating in the lucky result that with a great deal of persistence I finally found employment. I never felt particularly good about the process but didn’t know any other way to accomplish my goal.

I assumed that everybody did it that way.

Over time I discovered that, although I always seemed to get jobs, they seldom came through the job lottery of résumés and interviews with people I didn’t know. Thanks to teachers like Richard Bolles, who wrote What Color Is Your Parachute, and friends who steered me in the right directions, I’ve turned job hunting into–if not a truly pleasurable experience–at least one that regularly yields positive results.

You can do the same.

First, forget everything you’ve been taught and start over. Below is my guaranteed success formula for finding employment. The only reason it won’t work is if you don’t work it. Well, okay, there are a few caveats. The system will work faster and more fluidly if you are able to do a few things to help yourself.

First, you must know how to gather information through research and good listening skills. Second, you need to be a good conversationalist–listening more than you talk. Third, you should make a presentable appearance in your dress and social mannerisms.  Finally, and this is a big one, you need to know how to be socially pleasant–not abrasive or socially obnoxious.

1. Since one out of fifteen hundred résumés sent to an unknown employer results in a job, stop sending them out to people you haven’t spoken to unless there simply isn’t any other way to reach a specific employer.

2. Since going to job interviews with personnel departments at companies where you don’t know anyone seldom results in employment, stop that as well. If you know of job openings at a particular company, find out who the supervisor or manager is and go speak with that person. Personnel departments can seldom hire; they can only say, “No”–not what you want to hear. Most companies still allow supervisors to hire their own staff, so those are the people you want to see.

3. Since want ads are sixth or seventh on the list of ways employers use to hire, stop reading them unless you use them to help you locate companies with vacancies, but don’t bother answering the ads. There are much better ways to get hired.

The nice thing about stopping all these behaviors that seldom result in jobs is that they are typically the most dreary, frustrating, and painful parts of the job search. The reason they are dreary and painful is that they require you to prepare for a long series of nos.

Regular and frustrating rejection is the name of the game when you use traditional methods of job search. It’s hard on your self-image and, frankly, very inefficient. So now that we’ve removed the most unpleasant aspects of getting a job, what’s left? Below are the ABC’s of locating your ideal job.

A. Do your homework.

Read every article you can find about the companies you’re interested in and the field generally. If articles have been written about key people, read them as well. In other words, become conversant with the business.

Even if you want to become a hamburger flipper, you should know about the business. What are its biggest challenges? What are its rewards? What are its management issues? Tell every friend and acquaintance what you’re interested in doing.

You’ll be surprised how often they know somebody in the company or field of interest and can set you up with an informational interview. More about this technique later, but suffice it to say you should do your research–learn the jargon and other topical issues in the field. You’d be surprised at how many applicants are so interested in their own needs that they fail to do this basic research and demonstrate a true interest in what the employer is looking for.

Here are some things you should know:

* What is the broad history of the field?

* Who are its movers and shakers? What is their philosophy?

* What parts are stagnant or well defined and what parts are in flux or growth?

* Which are the local, state, national, and international organizations of influence in the field? This can include companies, professional organizations, citizens groups, universities, etc.

* What are the primary challenges currently facing the field?

* What is the working terminology of the occupation? Each field of endeavor develops its own acronyms, shorthand, and professional terminology. You need to know the language.

B. The number-one way employers hire is from people they know or referrals from trusted contacts. Your main focus should be on getting to know the people who can hire you. Another thing to remember: employers would rather hire someone who is trainable and easy to get along with than someone with all the skills necessary but who creates problems on the job. If you are armed with these facts, your goal is easy. Begin telephoning people in key positions at companies you may wish to work for. If the company has thirty or fewer employees, talk to the owner or president. If more than thirty, pick an upper-level manager.

Whatever you do, don’t go to personnel. Tell the person you want to speak to that you are conducting informational interviews and would like to meet with them to talk about their company, the field generally, its plusses and minuses, and how they themselves got into it.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is. All of us love to talk about ourselves and our companies. They will conclude that you’re bright, inquisitive, thoughtful, and likable if you prepare a good set of questions and listen carefully to the answers they give. The following question formula is a good starting point:

* What are your duties and responsibilities? How do you spend your day? How did you get started at this company (or in your profession)?

* What do you like most about your job? What do you like least? What kind of person is right for this kind of work?

* How can I learn more about this field? Are there specific trade journals I should be reading or associations I can join?

* How can I meet others in this field?

* What is the best way to get started (in this field or at this company)?

* I’m trying to get in to see people at some other organizations. Who else should I talk to?

* Can you direct me to others in your department/organization/division/company with whom you think it would be appropriate for me to talk or meet?

This should get you started.  Next week in How to Get a Job: Part II we’ll talk about how your disability should be handled and other success formulas that really work.