MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to Metro Connection. This week we're taking a mini break and revisiting some of the stories we've aired in recent months that have really stuck with us. Back around Valentines Day, we met some folks involved in a local dating service. Now, these days, you can find all sorts of websites out there to help you meet your match. But, of course, that wasn't always the case. Back in the 1980s, for example, the offerings were fewer and some people felt really left out.
MR. ROBERT WATSON
People with disabilities were being pigeon-holed in the traditional dating services like Together or Great Expectations.
And Robert Watson, who I recently met at his home in Brandywine, Md., should know.
If you had cerebral palsy like I do, if you go in, you'd be pigeon-holed into a cerebral palsy cubbyhole and only if someone else with cerebral palsy came about, you were looked at.
So in 1987, a psychiatrist in Chevy Chase decided to do something about it. Dr. Lucy Waletzky had been treating disabled patients for years so she thought, why not start a non-profit dating service for people with disabilities?
Dr. Lucy Waletzky thought, well, let's create this thing called DateAble where the disabilities were not an initial factor, personality, likes and dislikes were.
And a few years later, she handed over the reins.
She called me up and she said, well, would you like to run DateAble?
To her long-time friend, Robert Watson.
I took the executive director of DateAble the week after I got married.
And I'll give you three guesses how he and his wife...
MS. LYNN WATSON
I am Lynn Watson.
Okay, let's see. Back in '87, late '87, there was an article in the Washington Post about DateAble and I really didn't have a social life. I'd come home to my apartment every evening and get up the next day and go to work. And I said, well, I do need a social life so let me try this out.
Lynn, also was born with cerebral palsy in Front Royal, Va., but she was living in D.C. at the time, working at the VA Medical Center. And back then, DateAble required an in-person interview so she travelled to their offices in Chevy Chase, described what she was looking for in a partner.
I wanted somebody that was dedicated to his family and had a good job because I was working at the time and I didn't want somebody that I was dating also to be working.
And a month later...
They called me and said I think we have a date for you if you allow us to give him your phone number. Can we go ahead? And I said, sure.
And that very night Robert called. And when he did, Lynn popped the big question, the deal-breaker, if you will.
Are you a Redskin fan? I was a diehard Redskin fan and the Redskins had just won the Super Bowl. So I was not going to date a Cowboys fan. And he goes, of course I am. I said okay, then we can date.
After chatting on the phone nearly every day for two weeks, Lynn was convinced Robert was the one.
I called my mom up and I said, I know the man I'm going to marry. And she said you can't say that. And I said, oh, yes, I can.
And yes, she did. She and Robert met in person at one of DateAble's regular social gatherings, in this case a Valentine's Day dance. And the rest, as they say, is history. But even though Lynn and Robert and thousands of other people with disabilities have found true love using DateAble, Robert stresses that it isn't just a dating service.
DateAble starts as a friendship service. Most people don't realize that you have to be friends before you really date somebody, before you're engaged, before you fall in love.
And for many a person with disabilities -- and by the way, Robert emphasizes that that's his term of choice, person with disabilities.
The person is first, the disability's second.
And for many people with disabilities, their social world, their social circle, can be a bit limited, he says, so a little bit of that friendship, he talks about, can go a long way.
Some people develop social skills through DateAble. So even if we've had a little part of their life to boost their self esteem, I'd say we've done our job.
DateAble started regionally, but now it has 400 members nationwide representing a variety of disabilities from the more common or typical, as Robert calls them.
It is cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and your multiple sclerosis.
To the much more rare...
We have stuff that I can't even pronounce, stuff that there's only about 16 cases in the world. But the thing about DateAble is that we don't focus on the disabilities, we focus on the abilities and the likes and dislikes of the person.
And here's the other thing about DateAble, its membership is shrinking and Robert couldn't be happier.
Actually, in our mission statement, it says that DateAble eventually would like to dissipate because they wouldn't need us anymore.
In other words, he says, the world has changed.
Back in '87, people didn't accept people with disabilities, now it's quite different. And between the internet and Facebook and all these other dating services that cater to people with disabilities, if I know there's another dating service out there that can help the person go, go for it.
Robert says he could see DateAble disbanding within the next five years.
And we'll probably go out with a bang.
But in the meantime, they'll keep holding dances and brunches and seminars and matching up people in the hopes of creating crazy-in-love soulmates, lifelong friends or ideally some happy marriage of both. To learn more about DateAble and how to apply for membership, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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