Interabled Relationships: The New Norm

As a longtime wheelchair user myself, I have experienced the side-eyes, the stares, the shock when people learn I have been married for 10 years. That said, lately I've either noticed it a lot less, or I have just gotten used to it. In today's society, interabled couples are becoming a norm. Maybe it's because we see it so often in public and it's portrayed more in movies.

As with able-bodied relationships, each interabled relationship is different. Aside from my own interabled relationship, I have never really asked or experienced how others navigate having a disability and how it affects being with their partner. I recently sat down with my friend, Jess, to hear about how she met her fiancé, the ways they find fun things to do together, and some of the trials & tribulations that they have withstood together over the past 12 years. We dove into the funny, the serious, and the reality of being in an interabled relationship where sometimes we must rely on our partners in unexpected ways.

How did you and Jared meet?

Jared and I started dating on June 2nd, 2007. Oddly enough, we met through my first boyfriend. We quickly became good friends and spoke through AOL Instant Messenger nightly. That alone shows how long we have been together, since there weren't a lot of people with cell phones or texting back then! When my first relationship ended, Jared asked my ex's permission to date me.

Jess and Jared together at a dance

When you first started dating, what aspects of a new relationship were different because you are an interabled couple?

I am sure a lot of people with or without disabilities can relate to that awkwardness when you first start dating someone. At the beginning of our relationship, I avoided drinking anything so I wouldn't have to use the bathroom when I was with Jared. It wasn't long before he noticed that I had not gone to the bathroom around him. I told him that I needed help with my clothes, and with no hesitation at all he said that he would help me with anything I needed. I knew then that not only was he a selfless person, but that I could rely on him to be a great caregiver and partner as well.

Jess and Jared hanging out together

Although you are dependent on Jared sometimes, could you tell us about how you're able to be independent in certain aspects of life?

Although there is a lot that he helps me with, I take pride that I am not completely dependent on Jared for everything. I have my driver's license and after purchasing my own adaptive van, have learned to drive with hand controls. I have driven to stores to shop and to friends' homes without Jared. It is great to have the independence. In our first house we had to make many updates, and one day Jared needed a couple things from the hardware store. I went to the store by myself, bought what we needed, and drove home. I was so proud of myself and Jared shared in my happiness.

Could you tell us how your wheelchair allows you to have the freedom to do fun activities as an interabled couple?

As a wheelchair user, it can take a little extra effort to find adaptive hobbnies and activities to do as a couple. Jared and I play on the MoveAlong, Inc. CNY Flyers sled hockey team in Skaneateles, New York. Sled hockey has been a wonderful activity for us to share together. We have the team connection, along with being competitive with each other, and thoroughly love spending time together.

CNY Flyers sled hockey team

Are there certain opportunities afforded to you as an interabled couple?

There are some great benefits to being a wheelchair user. Great parking, and the seats at concerts and games are close enough to see sweat dripping off the players. I love being able to sit by the glass during a hockey game and seeing the players' faces smashed on the glass up close!

One of my favorite perks to being a wheelchair user is that at theme parks, my "party" and I can go through the exits to avoid the long lines, ride twice, and have more fast-pass options at Disney and other parks. Who wouldn't want to take full advantage of that?

Could you tell us about times when being an interabled couple can be challenging?

Whenever I have to use a restroom in public, Jared has to come with me. Typically, if there is family restroom, we are going to use it instead of trying to cram both of us into the handicap stall. We have waited outside of the family restroom and the handicapped stall and watched people walk out when there were clearly other stalls available to them. No kids or assistive devices, they just walk right out. Unfortunately, sometimes people aren't the most aware of their surroundings and forget that these spaces were created for people that genuinely need them. At some point when we are in the family bathroom and a person knocks, one of us is going to ask, "Are you a single person who wants to poop in private?" We just have to be brave; I don't think it will ever happen, but it would be funny for us to see that person's reaction.

What is one thing you want society to know about you and Jared and other interabled couples?

Society's preconceived notion of what interabled couples should be doing is actually pretty wrong. Even though Jared has been my personal care aide since 2009 and we have only spent a total of a month away from each other in the past 12 years, we are just like any other couple. Jared and I have our ups and downs in life and in our relationship. He is my rock through thick and thin. Jared has helped me through so many difficult incidents that, to this day, I cry and think, "How can anyone love someone like me and continue to stay with me through this?" Every single time, he tells me to look at him and says that he will always love and and he's not going anywhere. This is something even you average able-bodied couple can experience, though. We are genuinely just a couple with full-time jobs, a mortgage, dogs, and rockstar parking.

Jess, Jared, and their dogs

About the Interviewee

Jess and Jared

Jess lives in central New York with her fiancé Jared, their three dogs (Jasper, Bear, and Feeny), and a sugar glider named Rose. Jess is a Care Manager with Prime Care Coordination in Syracuse, NY. When she has free time, she likes to create art, play sled hockey, and try out new fun adaptive activities in the community.

About the Interviewer

Jess and her husband

Jess is a very active young wheelchair user. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, four dogs, and cat. For the past five years she has worked at Monroe Wheelchair doing Marketing and Business Development and helping to provide continuing education for clinicians across New York state through Monroe Learning Network. Jess volunteers in the Child Life Department at her local children's hospital every week putting on fun and educational activities for the patients and their families. In her spare time, she loves to be outdoors enjoying campfires, cooking out, and trying new adventures like axe throwing and zip-lining!

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Date: 6/18/2019 12:00:00 AM

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