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The Challenges of Dating a Man in a Wheelchair

author image Chris Blank
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.
The Challenges of Dating a Man in a Wheelchair
Disabled men sometimes define their masculinity by earning power rather than physical prowess. Photo Credit men with money image by PaulPaladin from Fotolia.com

In the 1978 movie "Coming Home," Sally Hyde, an able-bodied married woman, falls in love with Luke Martin, a wounded Vietnam veteran who uses a wheelchair. Their developing romance illustrates some of the challenges that occur with dating a man in a wheelchair. These challenges go beyond the logistical issues of access, and often touch nearly every aspect of the dating relationship.

Diminished Financial Resources

Disabled men traditionally have a higher unemployment rate than able-bodied men, and those men who are employed often work in less prestigious positions with lower pay, according the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. During the economic crisis that began in 2007, able-bodied workers began competing for jobs formerly reserved for disabled workers, according to CNN. As the economy began moving out of recession in 2010, the rate of unemployment among disabled workers remained steady, according to Disability Scoop. In fact, some employment outlets geared toward disabled workers have taken an especially hard hit during the recession, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In the dating market, a man's desirability often hinges to some extent on his financial resources. During the financial crisis that began in 2007, many men began to scale back their dating expenses or stop dating altogether because of wage cuts or job loss. In some cases, men found that their appeal to women had diminished.

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Physical Prowess

The documentary film "Murderball" shows disabled men playing a particularly rough variety of wheelchair rugby at paralympic competitions in Sweden and Athens. Disabled men are encouraged to develop their physical prowess as a means of preserving their sense of masculinity. Some disabled men develop what Women With Disabilities Australia called "supercrip" tendencies, placing extreme emphasis on developing physical strength in their arms and other areas of their bodies. Others redefine their masculinity around their earning power.

Nonetheless, many people view men who use wheelchairs as weak or a possible burden to potential dating partners. Aaron Broverman explains in the website Eyeweekly, "Isn't he supposed to be taking care of you, not the other way around? ... What will your friends think? How can you be expected to be constantly worried about someone else's well-being so early in a relationship, when you're barely sure about your own?"


A pivotal scene in the movie "Coming Home" shows Luke and Sally in a passionate sexual encounter. The scene illustrates that disabled people can and often do have active sex lives. However, there are often physical and mental adjustments, not least of which involve the attitudes of many able-bodied people that disabled men and women are or should be asexual. "I was not allowed to be a lover, not even with girls who got close to me. I was the friend they could trust because my sexuality was denied me by both sexes," Alan Holdsworth writes in New Internationalist.

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