The phrase, “We met online,” hasn’t always gotten a positive response. But with ever-rising technology, online dating is getting better reviews, especially for those with SCI.
As David Chappell gazed through the window of the brick building that housed Tio Pepe’s in Stockdon, Calif., he laid eyes on a woman wearing a blue top, black leather jacket and blue jeans. She was smiling and laughing, and in that moment he knew he was hooked on her.
“I mean, I remember exactly what she wore that first day I met her … I know because I kept trying to look at her butt and she was walking away. She caught me, she caught me looking and she busted me right on that, too, and I just turned bright red and was like, ‘Yeah, I was looking,’” Chappell says. “It was funny, we talked so long during that night that I didn’t know that everybody in the entire restaurant had left until the lady that was working there hit my wheelchair with the vacuum cleaner and we kind of looked around and said, ‘Oh crap, there’s no one else in here.’”
The 43-year-old from Lodi, Calif., has been in a wheelchair for 40 years after being shot by another little boy in a gun accident. Chappell found it hard to meet people and turned to online dating, where he found his wife, Ginger, of nine years.
“I tried dating just in my general area or what not, and all the women I was meeting … had a hang-up about the chair because of what some of their friends said,” Chappell says. “So I figured you know what, since my luck hasn’t been so good in general, I thought I would try to reach out and see what else was around me. Like the saying goes, fish in a small pond and you’ll get small fish; fish in a bigger pond and you’ll get something better.”
Plenty of Fish
The stigma of online dating hasn’t always been positive, but with the rise of sites such as Match.com, OkCupid.com and eHarmony.com, more people are taking to the screen in search of love.
“Ten years ago, people thought that anyone looking for a date online must be desperate, but that has completely changed,” says Michael Carter, president of the Passions Network (passionsnetwork.com). “Everyone is online these days, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and with this ease of creating accounts online, there has been a dramatic turn-around regarding views of online dating.”
The Passions Network is both an online dating and social networking site. Within the network, more than 248 niche sites bring people together through a common interest to help break the ice. Of those 248 sites, one is Disabled Passions, which contains groups within such as spinal-cord injury (SCI), wheelchair user, paraplegic and quadriplegic.
“The reason I think Internet dating (and social networking) is great for someone dealing with an SCI is that they have an opportunity to easily find people who understand their personal situation without having to deal with hardships that can be involved in navigating some social environments,” Carter says.
After meeting his wife online, David Chappell says, “We just never left each others’ side.”
Chappell used Yahoo Personals for about a year and half before meeting Ginger, and during that time he saw the struggles and benefits of being a wheelchair user in the online dating realm. He was always straight-forward about his SCI — his profile photo even showed him in his wheelchair. But a few of his dates were still frequently caught off-guard and treated him differently.
“A couple people I had gone out with, when they saw me were like, ‘Well I didn’t realize you were in a chair.’ And I’m like, ‘Well the picture showed me in a wheelchair, hence, I didn’t really think I had to mention it,’” Chappell says. “I told [my wife], ‘Just so you know I’m in a wheelchair,’ and I asked her, ‘Would you have a problem with that?’ And she kind of laughed and she said, ‘Well do you have a problem being in a wheelchair?’”
Being treated differently because of his injury wasn’t the only struggle Chappell faced as a wheelchair user. He also had to be on the lookout for women scamming him out of money as well as devotees, people specifically interested in wheelchair users.
Although Chappell ran into it a couple times himself, he finds it more commonly happens to women, like a lady he met at a bike rally whose boyfriend turned out to be a devotee.
“His friend knew what he was up to and he was the one that actually came and told her because he thought it was pretty dirty what he was doing,” Chappell says. “The friend and the lady are actually still together. He didn’t like what [the boyfriend] was doing to her because he thought she was a very beautiful woman and that she deserved better, and she liked the fact that he was willing to stand up like that.”
Carter says when it comes to devotees the best defense is just plain, old honesty. There is a separate group for devotees on the Disabled Passions site making those who are looking for a wheelchair user easier to spot and avoid for those who aren’t interested. What is more important, in his opinion, is the risk involved with falling prey to a spammer.
“Provided people remember that they should never send money to anyone they have met online, for any reason, at any time, the risks are minimized,” Carter says. “Please be careful with your personal information, please be careful with your heart and please do not send money to anyone you meet online.”
Cast a Line
Through all of the bad experiences — women looking for a free ride in life, hang-ups about his wheelchair and dates that simply didn’t work out, Chappell stands by online dating.
“I know there are some people out there that have had complete nightmares with it. But you know what? It’s still a useful tool to help you get out there and meet folks,” he says. “That’s trial by error; that’s like anything in life. You won’t know what it’s about until you actually get involved with it … if you don’t get out in the world and do it, then you’re never going to know, and you’re never going to know if you’re going to meet that special person that’s out there.
“[Recently-injured people are] going to be gun-shy about going out and meeting people as much because their life prior to being shot or wounded is different to them,” he adds. “There’s just the one thing that you’ve got to remember is that you still have the same heart … It’s changed a lot and it took some damage, but you’re still the same person on the inside.”
Chappell’s best advice to other online daters, especially those with SCI, is to be honest about who you are, your injury, what you like and what you are looking for.
“You want to make sure that you are being the real person you are in life as you are so that when you do meet that person you’ll make that click. And you’ll know it’s the right person because you’ll make that click right away,” Chappell says.
Chappell met Ginger on Yahoo Personals in 2002, they married in 2004 and now they’re trying for their first child.
“If it wasn’t for online dating, I would have never met my wife … There’s not a day that I go by that I don’t think about my wife, that I don’t love her more and more every day,” Chappell says. “Eleven years with the same person, all from meeting someone online. I say go for it.”