Now imagine how much more complicated it would be if you were blind. After all, dating apps are inherently visual platforms, so there are considerable logistical complications for low-vision users.
To start with, most apps don’t offer alt text descriptions, so you’d have to rely on what you can make out of a person’s pictures before you swipe. What’s alt text? Basically, a description of images that’s read aloud to blind users on a screen reader. For example, a user might plug in this information about his pic: “Man in his early 20s wearing sunglasses holds a fish he caught on river... just like every other 20-something dude on Tinder.” (Yeah, OK, we took a little creative liberty with that last part.)
Many phones have a magnifier tool in their accessibility settings that allows users to enlarge the tiny text on apps and online dating sites. But their designs are cumbersome, making them a hassle and a bad user experience.
Of course, for any modern single person, the payoff of online dating ― eventually finding love ― can be entirely worth the effort. To get a better sense of dating when you’re legally blind, we talked to four low-visioned 20-somethings about their search for love, and what dating apps can do to make their platforms more inclusive.
Responses have been edited for clarity and style.
What’s online dating like for you in general? Do you mention that you’re blind in your profiles?
Casey Greer, 26, actress and YouTuber at “How Casey Sees It”: My experience with online dating has been positive overall. There are pros and cons when it comes to whether or not I should mention that I’m legally blind in my profile. If it’s not in my profile, I have to awkwardly find a way to bring it up while we are messaging. If it is in my profile, it can either turn people off before they get to know me or it can attract people who may want to take advantage of me because they assume I’m vulnerable. I have tried both ways and haven’t decided which I prefer.
Robert Kingett, 29, journalist and disability advocate: I’m ignored a lot of the time online because of my disabilities but I also think it’s my weird, strong personality. I definitely throw it all out there, that I’m blind and stutter, that I’ve already written about myself in blogs, that I may be demisexual, but extremely romantic and a very driven activist and writer. I throw it all out there because it forces any players to go running.
James Rath, 23, filmmaker, speaker and accessibility advocate: I have done the whole Bumble and Tinder thing. My profile does hint at the fact that I’m blind but I often times don’t flat-out say it unless asked about it. It says, “Hope you’re into the whole blind date thing.” Those relationships typically don’t last too long to be honest, either myself or the other person lose interest. I haven’t been able to get too emotionally attached to anyone from dating apps and I find the whole swipe and speed-text dating game tedious and repetitive.
Hannah Steininger, 25, designer and founder of Watson & Wilma: For a long time, I would only tell those closest to me or wait until I had known someone at least a month or so before breaking the bad news. I wanted people to get to know me first without just seeing my disability. Looking back, I wish I would have told people up front. I never included it in my Tinder or Bumble profiles and certainly never disclosed it on a first date. I have come to realize that [my condition] doesn’t define who I am and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is important and people need to know.
Have you been legally blind since birth or did it come on later in life?
Greer: I have been legally blind since birth. I have a rare genetic condition called Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome. I’m not completely blind, but my vision is very poor and cannot be corrected by glasses, contacts, or surgery. My eyes are also severely sensitive to the sun and I have nystagmus, which for me means my eyes shake involuntarily.
Kingett: I’ve been legally blind my whole life but was recently completely blinded by a sudden case of glaucoma. I knew I had a detached retina but had no idea I even had glaucoma until it robbed me of my remaining vision in 2017. I also have cerebral palsy and stutter, so, naturally, this makes meeting people in person barely adequate, communication-wise.
Rath: I’ve been legally blind since birth. That means yes, I can “see,” but it’s non-correctable and my eyesight has a stamina where if I overexhaust or overuse the little sight I have to make out things such as colors and silhouettes, then it causes migraines. I see overexposure of light, blurriness (Ocular albinism), and vertigo (Nystagmus) constantly. I’ve had these ocular conditions since birth.
Steininger: I have a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). While I am confident that I have always had RP, I was not aware of it or formally diagnosed until age 15. This disease progresses differently for everyone. In my case, I cannot see in the dark and have low vision during the day. More specifically, I have “islands” or little spots of peripheral vision in each eye and in my left eye I do not have central vision. I can’t drive and must rely on Uber and those closest to me to get around, so it does impact more than just my sight; it affects my whole life.
Is there anything that sucks especially about online dating when you’re blind? Are there ways app developers can make their sites more accommodating?
Apps should label buttons and links and controls so screen readers can interpret elements for us. It’s so basic but it’s an overwhelming problem. You’d think that if you wanted people to pay to use your service, for example, you’d make it accessible to everyone. I don’t get it. Many other blind people say it’s ignorance, but I mean, you’re a developer who uses the web — it never occurred to you to look up how blind people use the web?
Rath: First, it’s important to have their apps accessible to screen readers. That is software built into computers and smartphones that converts text and navigation gestures into auditory language. Image descriptions or “alt text” is important to make images accessible. It allows for the uploader to describe their photos. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram currently support these features.
Steininger: Use alt text, and have options to make font in large/extra-large sizes. Also, using darker text colors really helps. For me, light text on a white background is extremely hard to read.
How do people usually respond on dates to you being blind? Any far-out-there responses?
Greer: People are usually nice about it, but a lot of people act uncomfortable. I usually tell them that my visual impairment has positively impacted my life and it made me who I am today, but they still usually respond with, “Wow, that sucks.” Once, a guy said to me, “I don’t think your blindness would negatively impact a relationship but I can’t say for sure.” I appreciated his honesty, but it wasn’t exactly the ideal response after opening up to someone.
Kingett: The most interesting response by far has been, if you’re legally blind (I hadn’t lost all my vision at this time), then why do you prefer men of color? I was honest, and explained that with my vision, I could see facial expressions of men of color, whereas with white people, I could never see white people at all.
Rath: My dates definitely follow up with questions but usually it’s nothing negative or stigmatizing. There was, however, one time from a Bumble date a girl asked me, “Oh... is it terminal?” That baffled me.
Steininger: The number one question is, “Have you tried wearing glasses?” I think people are uncomfortable around blindness and aren’t all that sure how to approach it sometimes. (I don’t blame them, there isn’t really much knowledge about vision loss or visual impairment.) Other interesting things that have been said include, “You don’t look blind,” and this from an ex-boyfriend: “No one is going to want to date you with your condition, it’s such a hassle to help you and hold your hand all the time.”
We put so much emphasis on physical appearances when dating. What other qualities do you value when evaluating how attractive a date is?
Greer: A person with a kind personality definitely matters the most to me, but a man’s voice also plays a pretty big role in how attractive he is to me. I also really need to feel chemistry. Even if I meet a very nice person, I still need to feel a spark between us for me to continue with the relationship. Mostly, I’m drawn to old souls who can hold deep conversations. I’m not into small talk very much.
Kingett: Conversational flow. Period. I can tell if you’re engaged or not. Really. I’m a master at people-reading. I’ve been called an empath many times in my life. The fastest way to make me lose interest in you is to be emotionally distant or conversationally distant.
Rath: The way people speak, their empathy and compassion are important. It’s easy to tell based on how people treat others, especially strangers, if they’re a good person or not. I don’t vibe well with unaware, self-absorbed folks.
Steininger: Physical appearance is important in a relationship but I would say that the quality of human is more important. Finding someone who accepts you for who you are and wants to grow with you is worth way more than looks. I value honesty, kindness, and someone who can understand my sarcasm.
How would you describe the perfect date?
Greer: For a first date, I prefer somewhere we can talk like getting lunch or coffee. For dates later down the line, I love fun activities like bowling or museums.
Kingett: Going to an audio-based event, or doing something fun and inclusive at his house. If their personality is epic, I can have a good time talking about “Star Wars” trivia while at a petting zoo, for example.
Rath: Hiking and camping with a meal cooked in the wilderness. That’d be kind of cool but not like a first date... you probably shouldn’t take a first date out into the woods alone.
Steininger: The perfect date for me would include music or an art museum, and of course, good food.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s never dated someone with a sight disability?
Greer: I would say to ask a lot of questions. If there’s something you’re curious about regarding my eye condition, I’ll be happy to explain it. Don’t try to avoid talking about the fact that I can’t see well. I appreciate being treated just like everyone else, but if you never bring it up, it makes me assume that you might feel awkward or uncomfortable around the topic of my blindness.
Kingett: Definitely meet them more than halfway. Research some of your questions beforehand because I know the internet will have answered what you’re dying to ask.
Rath: Just be supportive and accommodating. Relationships aren’t easy but they can be accessible.
Steininger: Ask questions. Understand how their specific vision loss affects them and what they need help with, and simply be there.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s blind who may be apprehensive about dating?
Greer: Just go for it! There are a lot of great people out there who will happily accept you!
Kingett: Keep trying! There’s someone out there for everyone, really. I’m living proof. If there are people out there who can put up with me in all my weird ways, there seriously is someone out there for everyone.
Rath: You have to love yourself before someone else can. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. I couldn’t follow through with any relationship until I truly accepted myself and my blindness into adulthood. I couldn’t be happier with myself, so now I’m ready to be happy with someone else.
Steininger: I would say to just get out there and not let your disability hold you back. Don’t settle for someone who treats you any less than you deserve. Be smart about online dating, meet in a public place and tell a friend where you’ll be. Don’t hide your disability, embrace it!