The nature of dating and encountering potential relationship partners has changed dramatically over the last few decades and, like everything else, technology has had much to do with the change.
Fifteen years ago, an old friend of mine radiated contentment after taking the online dating plunge. He met the love of his life almost immediately and they'd gotten married. He told me that in his profile he had posted a picture of himself in Central Park with his guide dog, and that the woman who would become his wife had fallen in love with that picture. It was the kind of story that could warm the chilliest of hearts and plenty of folks were eager to hear it. Two things stood out from his experience: he had found an accessible online dating site and he had decided to share the news of his blindness loud and clear in his original profile. Since that time, the online dating arena has expanded exponentially. These days, people of all ages use the Internet to develop casual friendships or enduring relationships. For those with visual impairments, the accessibility of dating sites plays a large part in their decision to get in the game.
Once again, with that continuing knack for taking the pulse of the blind and low vision community, National Braille Press has responded to this growing need with a book. Dating in the Digital Age: An Accessible Journey for Finding Love Online, by Kim Loftis, is a good place if you've been thinking of testing the waters of online dating.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
While the first few chapters of this book present an overview of the online dating scene and discuss some basic relevant issues, this is not a long-winded, preaching tome. The author does spend some time, to her credit, touching on the question of disability disclosure, along with some general guidelines for being safe, but she dispenses with these topics quickly enough in order to get to the heart of the matter. She does not weigh in on whether it is smarter to mention a visual impairment in your profile or not, but simply presents the merits of either choice. (My aforementioned friend might be in the minority on this point. In my experience most people with visual impairments tend to wait until there is at least a conversation evolving with another person before throwing that topic into the mix.) Kim Loftis is a clear writer who presents facts in a concise and logical manner. The reader who wants to cut to the chase will be happy that in very short order the cautions and preliminaries are complete and the examination of sites begins.
Since its inception a quarter century ago, online dating has become big business. There are websites and smart phone apps for the relationship seeker, the one-night stand aficionado, the millennial, and the retiree. In order to deliver some useful accessibility information, the author has selected three services for coverage in this book: match.com, Plenty of Fish, and eHarmony. Each offers a full-blown website as well as a mobile app.
Dedicating a chapter to each dating site, the author takes us on a detailed tour, providing information on signing up, reviewing potential people to meet, and the methods each site uses for reaching out or responding to other people.
Each link, button, combo box, or other element under discussion is accompanied by accessibility information. When Loftis has difficulty accessing the information offered in a particular area of a site, she explains exactly which steps she took to try to resolve the problem. Sometimes it's as simple as closing the page and approaching it again. Sometimes it's using a particular screen reader command. Sometimes she is unable to find any accessible solution. You will learn when the app is more accessible than the website and when the website will provide a more user-friendly experience. As she moves from one area to another of each site, she comments on features that might be specific to each particular dating service. She also tells the reader when a feature was simply not available via screen reader and whether or not someone with a visual impairment can engage in the process of signing up and conversing with potential matches.
One spoiler that seems essential here is that she does, in fact, report that all three selected services can be navigated to some degree without sight, with varying caveats and/or levels of difficulty.
To Buy or Not To Buy
It's always more pleasant to have a guide when you're approaching a new technological task, and that is the role Loftis assumes. She leads you through the registration and navigation process for each service, and prepares the reader for what lies ahead, pointing out the highlights and pitfalls. I wish she had reached out to the companies to address such matters as unlabeled buttons, but she has pointed them out, so that motivated readers can pick up from there and contact services themselves. More guidance with regard to posting photos would have been useful. That said, this is the only book of its kind and well worth the price for anyone ready to give online dating a try. Read the book straight through before jumping in with your own laptop or phone, and then use it as a convenient reference as you navigate any or all of these sites for yourself. This book won’t get you a date, but it will make the exploration process a simpler and more satisfying one.
Dating in the Digital Age: An Accessible Journey for Finding Love Online, by Kim Loftis, National Braille Press, Boston, is available in hardcopy braille or in electronic Daisy, eBraille, or Microsoft Word formats. Hard copy or downloaded versions are $18, or add $2.50 to have it sent to you on a USB drive. Order through the National Braille Press website or call 800-548-7323, Ext. 520.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- Book Review: Blindness for Beginners: A Renewed Vision of the Possible, by Maribel Steel, by Bill Holton
- Book Review: Getting Visual Assistance with Your iPhone: Now You Can Just Be Friends with Your Friends, by Judy Dixon, by Deborah Kendrick
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