Dating 101 for People with Vision Loss

by Empish J. Thomas, VisionAware Peer Advisor

Empish Thomas

Making adjustments to vision loss can be very challenging. Learning new ways to travel safely in and outside the home can be daunting. Learning assistive technology and advocacy skills to return back to work or school can be stressful. Learning how to prepare meals and complete household chores can be overwhelming. All of these tasks can be difficult if you have just lost your vision. And while taking on all of this, romance may or may not be top on your list. Or thoughts of having a happy and healthy love life might be the farthest thing from your mind.

Having and Maintaining a Love Life An Important Part of Life

Having and maintaining a love life is an important part of life and can be done even with vision loss. Learning how to interact, make friends and date can be very different when you have a visual impairment. For example, commuting to the location for the date might be different now. Or once you have arrived locating the person in the room or restaurant. Although you have lost vision it does not mean that your love life is over and that you should stop socializing. There are ways to get out and engage with others to meet that special someone or just have a good time on a casual date. So, here are a few helpful hints on how to get back into the dating game when you are new to vision loss.

Hints for Getting Back in the Dating Game

  • Tip 1: When meeting a new person you are interested in dating give them your cell number not your home number. I have found this to be a good safety precaution because home numbers can be traced to your home address. A cell number gives you some level of privacy and can keep you in better control of the situation. Until you really get to know the person lean on the side of caution. In lieu of a cell number, some have given out an e-mail address instead. You can create an anonymous address with a free provider such as Yahoo, Hot Mail or Google.
  • Tip 2: Ask friends and family for recommendations. Let them know that you are interested in dating and to look out for you. A friend might know a person that would be a good match and can set up an introduction. This can be a great help because you are not meeting the person without knowing anything about them.
  • Tip 3: Play an active role in setting up the date. Don’t let the person you are seeing do all the work. Suggest a great restaurant or movie you would like to see. This is also a good way to be sure that your needs as a visually impaired person are met. For example, suggest places to go that are on public transportation so that you can get there independently. Recommend movie theatres that have audio description so that you can enjoy the movie too. Propose a restaurant that provides readable menus in Braille/large print and understands how to work with the blind.

You can find more ideas in my post on "Tips for Dating When You are New to Vision Loss" and in a dating podcast in which I was interviewed: “The Blind Living Podcast on Blind Dating hosted by the Industries for the Blind- Milwaukee.

Scouting Out the Location and Other Tips for Dating

Head shot of Joe Strechay

Another blogger, Joe Strechay, shares the importance of scouting out the location for the date in his post "Dating When Blind or Visually Impaired". Here are a few he suggests:

  • Check the lighting and sound of the place for the date.
  • Know where the bathrooms are so that you can get to them when needed
  • Decide on what to eat. "Think about what foods you find to be messy and hard to eat normally… “The same goes on a first date. I avoid things like linguini or spaghetti with drippy sauces."
  • Think about the dinner conversation
  • Consider how to discuss your vision impairment
  • Figure out transportation options

In a Relationship When You Lose Vision

If you are already in a relationship and then you lose vision, getting encouragement and support from your spouse and/or partner is essential to the adjustment process. Both of you are trying to figure out how your visual impairment will impact your life together.

Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Knowing how to effectively communicate your needs without being needy is important.
  • Learning how to assert yourself in social situations while getting support from your sighted spouse and/or partner is important to maintaining a happy and healthy relationship.
  • Dealing with all of this with love, patience and humor will ultimately help the both of you.
Kevin and Anne Dunn

Kevin Dunn Talks About His and His Partner's Experiences

Kevin Dunn, a visually impaired man who lost his vision while in a dating relationship candidly shares his experiences in his post "Dating My Sweetheart Again after Losing Vision"

"With these newly acquired skills (from a vision rehabilitation center) and confidence, I was starting to feel like a worthy partner. I was getting back in the game and was ready to move forward...Now knowing that Anne wasn't going to leave me in that home for the blind, our relationship began anew. Things were a bit different now, but we were dating again."

Kevin wraps up, "I am lucky to have gone through this transition and learning period with someone that I already knew well...I am also lucky that we were able to figure it out together and work through frustrations with a sense of humor."

Empish Thomas Talks Dating on Blind Living

Listen to a special Blind Living Valentine's day episode where Harley Thomas and Cara Catton discuss dating as a blind person with Empish Thomas, blogger for VisionAware. Empish shares her experience with dating after losing her sight in her twenties and even shares some tips on dating in the modern age.

Listen to the Blind Living Podcast with Empish Thomas

Transcript to Blind Living podcast

Blind Living Radio is brought to you by HP Ink and Toner Cartridges. Precision engineered to work together with your HP Printer. Industries for the Blind presents Blind Living Radio by where you'll hear interesting topics, fun stories, and important news about our blind and visually-impaired community. It's time now for Blind Living Radio. (music)

Harley: Hello everybody! Welcome to Blind Living Radio. We're live from the HP Studio. I'm Harley Thomas in studio today. It is my pleasure to have Cara Catton.

Cara: You got my name right. That's amazing! I'm so impressed. It's only taken you how many shows now to get it right?

Harley: Maybe a year?

Cara: Maybe a year, probably not but something like that.

Harley: A year. That's longer than most of your dating.

Cara: Oh yeah. That's harsh.

Harley: That's a Valentine's Day bash, wasn't it?

Cara: What do they have? Isn't it like February 15th National Singles Day or something? Or Singles Awareness Day. That's what Valentine's Day is.

Harley: Valentine's Day is the day before Singles Awareness Day? Is that what you are telling me?

Cara: I think so. Yeah.

Harley: I have no knowledge of these things.

Cara: It's a thing. I'm telling you that. Go look on the internet.

Harley: You have anything special coming up?

Cara: I don't. I don't actually. I keep it low key in my life so nothing super special planned. What are you and the missus doing?

Harley: Uh, I will fail and I will fail to live up to her expectations, no doubt. Does that surprise you?

Cara: Ok, as long as you know where you stand before you even start the Valentine's Day, I think you're gonna be A-Ok. And if she stayed married to you for this long, I wouldn't imagine that it would come as a surprise the Valentine's Day disappointments.

Harley: I don't know if I like that. Stay married to you this long story.

Cara: (laughs)

Harley: I don't know if that's a good way of putting it. 'Honey, you know I love you. Oh, wait, let's talk about actions.' I'd better buy her something else. I'm in so much trouble.

Cara: You should probably try to do something or actually do something nice for her. I mean, as a girl, or just as a person actually, in general, someone doing something for or with me experience is actually something far better than something actual than a gift. Although jewelry is always a good gift.

Harley: Maybe I should do something for my girls too. For the kids? all the kids?

Cara: You should do something for your daughters too.

Harley: Really?

Cara: Because it's setting a good example of what they should expect on Valentine's Day.

Harley: Yeah.

Cara: Expect from a man in general. But that's a little sexist, I'll admit. So -

Harley: But you're ok with that?

Cara: I dunno. I think in any relationship whether you are dating or whether you're just in a friendship, I think both people should be equal partners with one another and do nice things for one another on holidays and I think to a large extent, knowing the history behind Valentine's Day, the fact that it started with a beheading, I mean, tends to put a little bit of damper on the actual day itself for people. But Hallmark doesn't seem to mind too much.

Harley: Do you find dating as a blind person a little different, Cara?

Cara: Um, you know, I really don't think it's that much different. I think you run into the same struggles, some of the same great things. In any good relationship, you learn how to be flexible. And as a person with a disability, I think that's one thing you start with your life is how to be flexible, how to understand that there's a way to do everything. You just have to figure it out. I mean you have a person that's going to pick you up on a date and then you're like 'oh, I can't do this. I have to do something else instead.' You know, you really just learn to make it work.

Harley: And making it work, that's just like marriage, you know. You gotta make it work.

Cara: I don't know Harley Thomas. You're the married one.

Harley: Oh, boy. So, Cara. How many - what?

Cara: How many - I was going to say, how many days have you been married?

Harley: Careful.

Cara: I need to dig into your lovelife a little bit.

Harley: My love life is not for discussion today, I don't think. I think it's more important we learn more about blind dating more than Harley. That's what we're here for. That's why I love having you here on the show.

Cara: Because I get little jibs in where I can.

Harley: You can try. And we've worked so hard to set up a special guest on blind dating.

Cara: I know. I'm ready to hear from her. I'm tired of hearing about your love life.

Harley: Go ahead and ask her a question.

Cara: I am going to ask her all kinds of questions about her love life too and blind dating.

Harley: Blind dating. This'll be fun.

Cara: This'll be fun. What's better than that for Valentine's Day?

Harley: We are going to make a call to Empish Thomas and learn a little bit more about her and how she is helping the blind community date and have love. Love and dating is different, right?

Cara: Sounds good! I dunno, I don't think you start off loving somebody but let's see what she has to say. She's probably more the expert than I am.

Cara: Hi Empish, this is Cara and I have Harley Thomas here with me on Blind Living Radio. How are you?

Empish: Fine. I'm doing well.

Cara: Good. Well, thanks so much for taking some time out of your day to talk with us today. We really, you know, came upon your blog and we are just really interested in what you had to say and wanted to hear a little bit more and share with our listeners.

Empish: K, I'd be happy to do that.

Harley: And you know one of the things Cara and I were talking about before we called you is really how does a blind person really get into the dating game? Cara wants to know if blind people dating brings a whole new definition, and I'm not going to say it but I'm gonna let her say it.

Cara: Ok, I get to say it since I'm the one that has a visual impairment. I say that blind dating gives a whole new meaning to blind dating.

Harley: Or the blind date.

Cara: Or the blind date. Oh man, I messed that up. Sorry. The intent was there. I tried, Harley. It is late on a Friday. I tried.

Harley: (laughs)

Empish: I think I do know what you mean. Ya, it does because I was sighted for about 25 years. I lost my vision in my early 20s. So you know when you are sighted, you can see the person you are dating, have eye contact, look at them across the room. Body language plays a big part. You can check somebody out, that kind of thing. Back in the day, we could exchange numbers on paper. Now you can do things with your cellphone and things like that. But a guy could write his number down and give it to you. Well, if you are visually-impaired or blind then that doesn't quite work so well. But a lot of visual things that happen when you are interacting that someone who has limited vision issues can miss out on. So you have to kind of figure out another way to kind of work around some of that stuff. And it can be a little tricky. Plus, there's a lot of social ideas, societal ideals about dating someone with a disability, positive and negative or otherwise. You have to kind of have to deal with...

Harley: Cara is nodding her head right now. Just so you know.

Cara: I didn't want to interrupt but I completely agree. I couldn't agree more on that.

Empish: Yeah. There's some misnomers on things that you may have to navigate around that people may make assumptions about you because you have a disability that you have to tackle when you are looking at dating someone. So, yeah, yeah.

Cara: Yeah, so just to kind of piggy back on that. I really couldn't agree more. I mean as a person with a disability, I think I've encountered those in romantic settings that think that maybe it's not quite as much of an equal partnership because I'm coming at it with a disability versus you know being with somebody but you know what, everybody has something going on. So you know, I can definitely relate to what you're saying on that and I think probably most of our listeners can as well.

Harley: Empish, for our listening audience, can you take a minute and kind of tell folks what you do for a career and why we called you. There's a reason we called you.

Empish: Sure, sure. I'm in the Atlanta area and I work at a vision rehabilitation center here in Atlanta. So I do work helping people who are visually-impaired, newly blind and visually-impaired and what I do is public education and community outreach. So I kind of do like PR and marketing in a sense. I work with the website. I help out with the newsletter. I work with our blog and I also do presentations and public speaking. I also do vendor fairs. I'll be doing one tomorrow for Foundation for Fighting Blindness. I'll be doing a vendor table there and handing out literature, talking about the organization that I work for, getting the word out about what we do and how we can help people who just lost their vision and how they can be more independent, get their life back, get back on their feet. That kind of thing. On the side, I volunteer for VisionAware. That's where you guys saw the blog post where I'm a peer adviser. So a bunch of us get together and we come up with different ideas on topics and things to put on Vision Aware. We are all visually impaired all over the country and also international. We have some peer advisers that are in Australia and other places. And we get together once a month on a conference call to kind of come up with topics, ideas, and things that we think people would want to know about. It's been a really rewarding experience because it adds to resources and information and that personal objective of finding information for someone who is visually impaired but hearing these stories that are written by people who are also visually impaired and about their day to day life. So I do that on a volunteer aside from my regular job.

Harley: I see. So you are very busy.

Empish: (Laughs) Ya, that's what everybody says. But that's how you meet people too.

Cara: You know, we had touched on a little bit briefly about how you get into it. But it's a kind of how you put yourself out there. And I think to bridge on that a little bit, you had mentioned that you had lost your sight when you were about 25. So are you completely blind, partially sighted?

Empish: I'm totally blind now.

Cara: Ok.

Empish: I lost it over time and yeah, I'm totally blind now.

Cara: So how do you feel dating before the age of 25 versus dating after the age of 25 where you had sight compared to when you had no sight? What are some of the differences that you have really noticed and what are some things that you can tell our listeners about that maybe you found successful and some helpful tips.

Empish: I'm trying to remember...I'm in my 40s now. (laughs)

Cara: Nobody's too old to date.

Empish: No, no, no. I'm trying to remember what did I do back then when I was in college and so dating in college is totally different than dating as an adult. You're more mature, you know. You've established yourself. You have a career. You know when you're in college your kinda broke (laughs) and a lot of different things.

Harley: So go to a nice restaurant now. You can afford it...

Empish: Right, right. And when you're older, you're more confident about how you are as a person. In college, you are still trying to figure yourself out, what your major is gonna be. There's a lot of different things that have to nothing to do with vision impairment that's going on. The confidence can be a big factor and really feeling comfortable in your skin and who you really are as a person can be a big factor in dating. If you don't feel comfortable in your skin as a person with a vision impairment, if you are still maybe grappling with your sight loss or maybe haven't quite dealt with that, that's gonna come out in your romantic life.

Harley: And I think dating even as sighted people, I think the same thing applies. So far everything that you've said about the confidence part is really important.

Cara: Ya, and I think just being really understanding or at least in my experience it has always been the more you understand about who you are and are good with who you are going into a relationship, the better the relationship will be. And with that we will head into a commercial break. We are joined in studio with Harley Thomas as always and me, pretending to be the real host, Cara Catton. And our guest today is Empish Thomas who is a lifestyle blogger. And you are listening to Blind Living Radio. Blind Living Radio will be right back after these messages.

(music)

Blind Living Radio is supported by industries supporting the blind in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, creating employment opportunties for the blind, visually impaired, from coast to coast. From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this is Blind Living Radio. From industries with the blind providing employment opportunities for blind professionals since 1952.

Harley: Hello everybody. Welcome back to Blind Living Radio. I think Cara's trying to replace me.

Cara: I am always.

Harley: My name's Harley Thomas. This is Cara Catton.

Cara: Hi!

Harley: And we are joined on the phone with Empish Thomas from Atlanta, Georgia. She's a lifestyle blogger. Hello Empish!

Empish: Hey.

Harley: And we are talking a little about dating.

Cara: We are in the season of love.

Harley: We are in the season of love and beheadings.

Cara: and beheadings.

Harley: Let's, we should probably jump back in love life.

Cara: You should probably talk to Empish. I'm a little bit of a Debbie Downer around Valentine's Day. So let's talk to Empish.

Harley: During the break, you had a great idea that you and Empish should talk about.

Cara: So, Empish, you and I were chatting a little bit and I think our audience would really be interested about what are some of the best tips and ways that you found to be successful in the dating world after you lost your sight.

Empish: Well, you know, it's interesting that you ask me that question. Some things I realized I didn't have to reinvent the wheel all over again. I think sometimes when you lose your vision you think 'Oh gosh, I gotta start my life off all over again because I'm blind. Some I didn't and I thought well what did I do when I was sighted? Well, implement some of those things, just kind of tweak it a little bit. So when you think about where do I go to meet people? Well, maybe go to your faith community. You go to civic or social organizations. Or maybe you have a meet up group or a book club. Or maybe you are at a networking function at your job. Those are places that sighted people meet people too. And you can do the same. And actually, a guy I dated, I met at a book club function. So it's the same kind of concept. You don't have to bang your head up against the wall and reinvent everything. But that's a great suggestion that I thought of on my own self. Look at those places that your already going. What are you doing? Maybe you are volunteering somewhere, whatever. And you can meet people right there at those same spots. And that's a great thing.

Harley: And that's a great thing too cause you're confident because you are familiar with those environments.

Empish: Exactly, exactly. And you're relaxed and you are in a familiar place. Also ask friends and family for connections, for hook ups. You know, you're probably talking to someone you know, your friends, your famiy members, colleagues. And say 'hey, I'm out here. I wanna start dating.' You know what I want. You have my name and number, whatever, whatever. That way you already have someone you're familiar with. They already know you as a person and they can connect you so that way you are not meeting a complete total stranger. You are meeting someone with a familiar connection. And again, that is something that people that are sighted do as well. You can do that as a person that's blind as well. So, yeah.

Cara: Yeah, and I think that's absolutely phenomenal and it does give a whole new meaning to the word blind date. (laughs) Where's my parumpump? (Drum roll sound effect)

Harley: Pumpumparumpump. Perfect.

Empish: (laughs)

Cara: Empish, I think you touched on some really good points about taking your current situation and just seeing what your opportunities are. I think for a lot of people that can be really successful but I think also in the 21st century, you see the rise in online dating.

Harley: You are such a millenial.

Cara: I am a millenial. And online dating is so big. And so what do you think about -

Empish: It is.

Cara: What do you think about online dating for those that have visual impairments or those who are blind? What are your...

Harley: Or not.

Cara: Or just in general, what are your thoughts?

Empish: You know, I was reading some articles about they do it on your phone now, your smartphone.

Harley: Sure it does, Tinder.

Cara: I do not do Tinder, Harley!

Empish: (laughs) What is that all about?

Cara: I would not recommend it.

Empish: I would just keep up with it to know but not that I would actually do it. But I did do online dating for a little while. I did eHarmony and you know it was a mixed bag for me. I went to that one because I thought it was a more reputable website versus some of the other sites out there. And I did follow the online cautionary details and information and stuff like that. Because I say if you are gonna do online dating, go slow because people can put up false profiles. You don't know who you are dealing with compared to face to face interaction. Like with Facebook or any other social media or whatever online, people can lie and not be truthful to you. And you just get a profile and then whatever they're saying. So go slow and continue to go through the onine message. Don't be so quick to give out too much personal information right away.

Harley: That's true.

Empish: Go slow. Take your time. Go at your own speed. You control the situation.

Harley: That's great advice.

Cara: Especially as a person with a disability. I mean taking extra precautions online just because again there can be some societal perceptions that you are battling against and you want to make extra sure that when you are meeting somebody in person that would be up to their online reputation. So, yeah, I would definitely agree with taking it slow and seeing where things go especially as people who may not be able to see some things right away.

Harley: But there's love in the air, Cara.

Cara: Where's the love? I don't see...

Harley: It's Valentine's. It's coming right up.

Cara: I know.

Harley: Well, you know Empish, we've run out of time. We can't talk about love anymore. Cara can't stand to be in the studio with me anymore. That's what it is.

Cara: Harley next to me is too much.

Harley: Everybody, thank you for joining us this pre-Valentine's Day special. Empish, thank you for joining us.

Cara: Thank you, Empish.

Empish: Thank you for having me.

Harley: And Empish, is there a website where we can learn more about your blog that we can share with everyone?

Empish: Well, yeah. Visionaware.org. And that's the word vision and the word aware together dot O R G

Harley: That is perfect. And everyone, we were joined today by Empish Thomas from VisionAware.org. And Cara Catton. Cara, thank you for hosting today with me and taking control of the situation.

Cara: I'm really going to replace you next week.

Harley: Thank you very much. You can have the HB Studio all to yourself. Is that what you are telling me?

Cara: Yes, it is.

Harley: It's a dream come true, isn't it?

Cara: It is a dream come true.

Harley: And I'm Harley Thomas here. You are listening to Blind Living Radio. See you guys next week. And Cara, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Cara: Happy Valentine's Day, Harley. Do something nice for your wife.

Harley: Will do. Bye everybody.

(music)

Thanks for listening to and supporting Blind Living Radio. You can support industires for the blind by ordering any of our products from blind-made.com. That's blind dash made dot com. Blind Living Radio is brought to you by HP Ink and Toner Cartridges. Precision engineered to work together with your HP Printer.

I'm Empish Thomas with VisionAware.org and you're listening to Blind Living Radio. (music)

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