Our Response to Cosmo’s Advice on Dating a “Woman in Wheelchair”


Dear Cosmo,

We are pleased you have published an article on women with disabilities: 12 Things you should know before dating a woman in Wheelchair. We women on wheels are not used to being portrayed as “dateable” in the media, so thank you for choosing to be inclusive!

However, if you are keen to listen, there are a few glaring ways this feature could have applied to a majority of chair users instead of a minority.  We don’t want to come off as whiney or angry crips who can never be happy and find offense in every possible way we are portrayed. We really ARE NOT inherently bitchy people with “chips on our shoulders.” Well some are, but nobody pays any attention to them anyway. We felt it important to offer some insight into “women in wheelchairs” for future features, which we hope you will continue!  Perhaps “top ten positions for sex with a chick in a wheelchair” or “benefits of dating someone in a wheelchair”?

Many felt the worst part of the article was the painfully fake stock image that was selected for the female, which is taking the most heat from the community in comments on our Facebook page and yours.

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Kristy Goosman Hughes My first impression was, What a stupid picture!”

Kara Ayers Ouch….this literally hurts to see:/ what year is it!?

Tim Cox HAHAHAHAHA! this might be my favorite picture ever.

Loren Worthington I like those old 70 pound Wheelchairs. That way they can’t run away from me quite so fast J

James Shoemaker …really, a hospital transport chair?

Yannick Benjamin So a major publication like Cosmopolitan could not find an active woman who is a user of an actual current wheelchair. There are plenty of great role models that are full time wheelchair users that they could have used. I mean if you’re going to fake it at least do it right. Everything is wrong about that picture. I say to all of you it’s time to boycott Cosmopolitan so incredibly superficial

Willemijn Engel That looks like a pre-ww2 wheelchair with a 2016 model in it

Well, you get the “Picture,” right? Using an able-bodied model undermines the entire message of the article. For some guidance in the future, please see the REAL models with Disabilities that could have rocked this feature from the folks at PUSHLivingPhotos.com, a disability inclusive stock image site.

We wanted to offer you the perspective of two seasoned chair users.

  • Don’t assume we are damsels in distress. We are strong and independent in mind and often body, emphasis on strong.  Hey, dating in today’s world of swiping left, fake profiles, and “ghosting,” requires we all be strong. From dealing with rejection, delusion (No, you really have very little chance to date the hot 34 year old because she is in a wheelchair when you are 68!), and misconceptions.  If you are looking for a wallflower to be a hero, be aware you are allowing your stereotypes to mislead you, and you will surely be disappointed when you find out we have our own opinions and may not need your help as much as you think. That being said, occasionally we do need help. We have no shame in asking you to grab the Tillamook Black Cherry ice cream on the top shelf. We’re outspoken, so don’t worry we’ll happily give you tips on pushing our chair…when we allow it. 😉
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Don’t assume we are weak, helpless or unhealthy! Image of Maria Gast by Neil Kremer for PhotoAbility.net

  • We give as much as we get. We may not be able to fix the kitchen sink (or we may surprise you and build a bunk bed from scratch! See Alicia Reagan Story!) or reach the top shelve to get the good China down for the party, but we can design and send the invites, plan the menu, cook the meal, and take care of most of the details. We have way more strengths than weaknesses to bring to a relationship, so don’t assume we can’t be an equal partner.
  • There may be some places we can’t access due to accessibility, but there are plenty of things we can do together. We will keep you active and busy, and you may not be able to keep up with us!! Tip: Try not to set up the first date or group dates at bars with High top tables! Most of us, unless we use a special chair with a hydraulic lift or higher, find high tops to be rather annoying and uncomfortable. Nobody wants to set their drink where someone’s ass was. See #DropTheHighTops campaign for more on this subject.
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HighTop Tables make it hard to see eye to eye with your lady on wheels

  • Your family and friends may disapprove and think you are limiting your life by dating someone who is disabled, or conversely, think you’re a hero or a saint. Only you need to be happy, you know this chick rocks and you will have to just let them all think you are doing her a favor. Ha! If they only knew!!
  • We may take longer in the bathroom or getting dressed…you try sitting and pulling up a pair of jeans! That just means you get to miss us more. Don’t they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Plus, we won’t judge you when you take a long time to poop while reading.
  • When we do need help, we will ask. We like to maintain as much independence as possible. We will push if in a manual chair as long as we can and then may reach out to hold your hand for a pull or ask you to push for a while. Don’t feel like you have to be overly helpful, and let us show you how best to help us when we need it. We’re a team, and that’s what makes us so great.
  • Speaking of needing help, we can go up or down stairs with assistance, (though some like Tiphany Adams can do it alone! Love that show off!) But please, let us teach you how we go up or down a flight of stairs. Avoiding a face plant is a good goal to have. Check out this guide on how to safely descend stairs for some pointers…but most importantly, take guidance and listen to the expert, she knows what is most comfortable for her.
  • You can also lift us up and carry us if you are able and this can be very romantic and bonding experience.  Just remember, lift with your legs and not your back!  Using proper ergonomics is crucial, so you don’t pull out your back and ruin the date/vacation.  Better yet, try some core strengthening exercises and squats to prepare for those times when you want to help us get into the hot tub or other fun activities!
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  • Regarding sex, it’s no different than able-bodied people. Some are sex fiends wanting it several times a day, and some just aren’t that sexual. But please don’t ask us if we “can have sex”, right out the gate before we have even shown an interest in knowing you. Sure, you have the right to know, and we do to, but we need to demonstrate that we feel you are worthy of this level of intimate discussion. Oh, and don’t believe the rumor about girls in chairs giving the best BJ’s (otherwise known as Felatio). It may be true and it may not, and you just have to wait and find out if you’re lucky to get this far. 😉

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I am sure there are many more “things you should know”, but the most important is: Don’t assume anything. Like able-bodied people, we are all unique. Every disability, even woman with the exact same diagnosis can have different abilities and desires.  Some of us skydive, Jet Ski, snow ski, and zip line. Some cook like a boss and prefer a great whiskey and a cigar bar to the adrenaline. Take the time to learn what we have in common and ask us what we like to do for fun.  Your last able-bodied girlfriend may be a boring couch potato compared to a girl on wheels. Proceed with an open mind. Just proceed. You don’t want to miss out!

Written By Deborah Davis with contributions by Gina Schuh

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Gina Schuh

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Deborah Davis

Deborah is a Speaker, Disability Inclusion Consultant, Entrepreneur, Writer and Business Owner of Wheelchair Lifestyle Enterprise Push Living Inc.

She was a Former Dancer, Accident Survivor (C 6-7 Spinal Cord Injury resulting in incomplete Quadriplegia 1985), College grad (BBA Finance 1991 U of Miami), with a background in Sales and Marketing and Non Profit Development and Management.

She is now embarked on new path creating a market for Disability Inclusive Stock Images with the creation of PUSHlivingPhotos.com and publishing an online enterprise: PushLiving.com. The mission is to create Inclusion for people with disabilities through stock images for advertising, marketing and editorial uses, providing accessible properties for travel, swap or purchase, publishing an online magazine for improved health and well-being, providing information and opportunities for Accessible Travel, and operating an online store with products that improve lives.

She is most passionate about building a network of people with disabilities who are empowering, supporting and creating a more inclusive world. Personally, she is a mother of two beautiful, wise and exceptionally bright young women, and residing in South Florida.

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