When right swipe becomes special : The Asian Age by Dyuti Basu
As online dating takes the world by storm, the differently abled too are increasingly turning to the web to find love
The idea of using the Internet to find love and companionship is nearly as old as the medium itself. The growing popularity of the likes of Tinder and Shaadi.com have made it easier for Indians to get lucky in love and not left too far behind are the differently abled as well, who are getting a helping hand through special apps and services to find love on the Internet. Inclusive dating apps and websites like Voice Vision, Inclov, Ability Matrimony and Viklang Shaadi are becoming increasingly popular among the differently abled who are looking for help in seeking out partners outside their immediate social circle.
“When I first saw Imran’s profile on Facebook, I did not trust him,” says Anu Multani, winner of the Miss Wheelchair India 2015 title. “You can make a fake account on Facebook and though I saw him in a group for people with disabilities, I did not really talk to him,” she adds. Anu and Imran Garana, both of who have been diagnosed with polio, were on the look out for someone to spend their lives with but had not been able to find a compatible partner. For both, Inclov, a new mobile matchmaking app launched in January this year, was the answer to a prayer. Soon after its launch, the couple met via the app and after a month of courtship, they decided to tie the knot. Along with family and friends, Shankar Srinivasan, the co-founder of the app that played cupid, attended the wedding. “They are the first match to get married through our app,” he beams. The newlywed couple can’t stop gushing about each other, “He’s normal, he’s loving and he’s a good husband,” says Anu while Imran admits that he fell for her as soon as he saw her photo. While the Garanas were able to find love online, 29-year-old Varsha Kewalramani is yet to find a match. Still, Varsha, who suffers from a genetic skin condition called Epidermolysis Bullossa, is hopeful she’ll find a prospective partner on the service. Talking about her interaction with the app, the corporate lawyer says, “I found the app quite user-friendly and its privacy features came handy as well. It’s been a mixed experience and I’m yet to find someone with whom I can connect, but that’s the case with all dating sites, isn’t it?” she says.
These recent apps have not only helped the community of disabled people but have also increased the interaction between them and non-disabled people. “Around 30 per cent users of Inclov are non-disabled. On using the app they realise that there are plenty of disabled people successful in their respective fields,” says Shankar. “We call ourselves a matchmaking app because it’s more than just marriage and dating. People aged 40 and older can also come here and find companionship or even friendship.”
“Everyone wants a Shah Rukh Khan or Kareena Kapoor these days,” says Sushmeetha B. Bubna, founder of Voice Vision, another portal that provides matchmaking for people with disabilities. “Just because these people look a bit different, talk a bit differently or need the help of prosthetic devices or wheelchairs, they are in no way less than anyone else,” she says, stressing that services like hers can help bridge a gap between disabled people and non-disabled people.
Jeeja Ghosh Nag, head of advocacy and disability studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy admits that it’s also a tricky turf to tread on. She is of the view that these matchmaking services must help people find companionship without negatively affecting their morale.
“People with disabilities often think that they are inferior to others. The older websites had a very negative impact on users’ psyche by segregating people or clumping them together only based on disabilities,” says Sushmeetha.
Unlike most other matchmaking services, Voice Vision has offline sessions where people can mingle with each other. “We organise yearly get-togethers where people with and without disabilities can meet and socialise. Even if you don’t find a soulmate at these meetings, you are certain to find a friend,” assures Sushmeetha. Additionally, these meet-ups also include awareness, counselling and motivational sessions. While the participants might not always find a match, these sessions help build their confidence, she says.
Dating and marriage can be a daunting prospect. But Jeeja, who has been simplifying the process has some advice for people with disabilities on keeping up with new age dating. “You have to keep telling yourself that you are lovable and that there is someone who can understand your qualities and love you for the person you are,” she concludes.