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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Online Dating: Revealing a Disability

Quick Access:
Revealing a Disability

How do I tell someone that I have a disability?


Choosing whom to tell or not tell is your personal decision. It's your choice and your right. There’s no perfect roadmap for how to disclose. I believe the best approach is to trust your instinct, not your fears.

I know several online daters with some type of physical disability or medical condition, and some of them choose to reveal their disability in their personal profiles and others don’t. There are also some niche sites that cater to individuals with various types of disabilities or medical conditions. Obviously, all online daters hold back information in their personal profiles. We all have information that we share only when trust is established and a friendship develops. However, this I can say with utmost certainty… don’t wait for an offline meeting to disclose an obvious disability. This unfairly puts the other person in an awkward and potentially embarrassing situation.

If you decide to discuss your disability with a romantic prospect you meet online, remember not to dwell on limitations. Instead, focus on your capabilities and accomplishments. If your disability is physical, such as a missing arm or leg, talking openly and comfortably about it can help to put the person at ease. Most prospects will probably not ask you questions about your disability openly, but they’ll usually wonder about it privately. You should respond by giving the person the facts involved –avoid leaving them with mistaken or false impressions or ideas. Having feelings of uncertainty about disclosing is a very common reaction. Therefore, here are some general guidelines to remember about disclosing:

» Be selective -- you don't have to tell everyone.

» Consider the five “W’s” when thinking about disclosure: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Who do you need to tell? What do you want to tell them about your disability, and what are you expecting from the person you’re disclosing your status to? When should you tell them? Where is the best place to have this conversation? Why are you telling them?

» Easy does it. In most situations, you can take your time to consider who to tell and how to tell them.

» Consider whether there’s a real purpose for you to tell this person or if you are simply feeling anxious and want to “dump” your feelings.

» Telling people indiscriminately may affect your life in ways you haven't considered.

» Never be apologetic. A disability doesn't mean you’re any less of a caring, loving, attractive, and talented individual.

» Keep it simple – you don't have to tell the story of your life.

» Whatever the response you receive in a specific situation, and even if it doesn’t go the way you’d hoped, you’re going to survive it and your life will go on. Many, many other people have dealt with this issue and have found their way through it. You will get through it too.

Now, I want to give you a tool. It’s a worksheet of sorts that presents the pros, cons and possible outcomes of disclosing your disability status to another online dater at different stages of a relationship. It’s my intention for the tips above and the worksheet below to give you solid food for thought as you contemplate how best to answer the question of disclosure in your situation.

Time of
Advantages Disadvantages Possible
In Your

Honesty/peace of mind

Easy/lets prospects decide if your specific disability is an issue

Might disqualify you with no opportunity to present yourself and your qualities and no recourse

Potential for discrimination

If you use this technique you may have a harder time finding suitable prospects, but usually have less disability- related problems when you do
During an

Honesty/peace of mind

Opportunity to respond briefly and positively—to specific disability issues prospects might have

Puts responsibility on you to handle disability issues in a clear, non-threatening way

Too much emphasis on issue indicates possible problem: you’re not being evaluated on your personality, attitude, or other pros

How comfortable are you with discussing your disability? Are you too preoccupied with it? These are very difficult questions, but ones that you can prepare to answer
After a
Few Good

Honesty/peace of mind

Opportunity to respond briefly and positively—to specific disability issues prospects might have

People might feel you should have told him/her earlier

Might lead to distrust with people

Need to honestly evaluate your disability in light of the maturity and potential of the online relationship

Need to be able to explain how the disability will or won’t affect the relationship

Long After
You Begin

Opportunity to showcase yourself before disclosure

May be regarded as a sign that you don’t consider your disability a big deal

Opportunity to respond in detail and positively - to specific disability issues prospects might have

Nervousness or fear of having to explain a sudden disability-related problem to a prospect

Possibility of a disability-related problem before co-workers know how to react

Could change the interaction w/ prospects

Can perpetrate disability myths and misunderstandings

The longer you put off disclosing the harder it becomes

Relationships you establish may be damaged if they feel you have been untruthful with them It may be difficult to re-establish trust

Never Prospects can’t respond or react negatively to your disability unless or you have an offline meeting or experience a disability-related problem

If disability is discovered, you run the risk of losing the relationship

Can perpetrate disability myths and misunderstandings

The longer you put off disclosing the harder it becomes

Relationships you establish may be damaged if they feel you have been untruthful with them It may be difficult to re-establish trust


> - The best approach to find the one. <

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