"I thee wed", James and Jeanne Baker at their wedding. The couple met through Dating4Disabled.com
If you combine the Jewish traditions of matchmaking and altruism with Israeli high-tech expertise, you get Dating4Disabled.com, a free dating service and online community which offers people with disabilities the opportunity to connect with one another.
Dating4Disabled is the brainchild of Daniel Brunicki and Yuval Katz, the founders of Interdate.co.il, an Israeli interactive applications software company. Created in 2006, Interdate specializes in building websites, internet marketing and creating online community portals.
Operating out of Israel, Dating4Disabled serves more than 35,000 unique visitors from around the world. Ninety-five per cent of its members have disabilities; all are English speakers. In the short sign-up process, members create a profile that tells other members about themselves and what they are looking for. Brunicki and Katz subsidize all the running costs of Dating4 Disabled so that once the account is activated, all the site’s networking tools, including the advanced search tool, are available to members completely free of charge. The site is easy to navigate and easily accessible for people with special needs. Through the use of forums, blogs, group chat and instant messaging, the site’s members share resources, make friends and create valuable social networks. Some even find their life partner. Today, the international website ranks first in Google searches for "disabled dating”.
The site is administered by Merryl Kaplan, a former New Yorker and Human Resources Manager at Mount Sinai Hospital. "As Dating4Disabled.com's Manager of Public Relations and Member Services, I serve as site spokesperson as well as cheerleader for new members," she explains. Care is also taken to protect members: Dating4Disabled uses an advanced filtration system which automatically denies membership to suspicious registrants, blocking approximately 90% of all illegitimate membership requests.
“Finding a life partner or even a date can be tricky for anyone, but it is a particularly challenging process for someone with a disability,” says Kaplan. “Mobility, social norms, and fear of rejection are just a few of the obstacles people with disabilities have to overcome. Time and again, Dating4Disabled members express a sense of relief at having found an online community that understands what life with a disability is all about.”
Aaron Haimo came on aliyah from Indiana with his family eight months ago. Aged 34, he has a condition called ataxia that affects his balance, and an eye ailment that causes night blindness. He came across Dating4Disabled while searching the Internet and he finds the site interesting and helpful. Aaron is modern orthodox and he loves learning, reading and going to the movies. He is looking for a young woman who is similarly courteous, kind and gentle. “I am lucky to be living here,” he says. “I joined Dating4Disabled to find friendship and, I hope, a long-term relationship in Israel.”
Kaplan is keen for more English-speaking Israelis to join Dating4Disabled. “I want them to have the opportunity –like so many other people worldwide through our wonderful site - to find friendship, companionship, understanding and empathy, and above all I would love them to find romance and marriage.”
Although Kaplan does not have a disability, having a cousin with cerebral palsy has deepened her appreciation of the challenges faced by people with disabilities in their everyday lives. Her enthusiasm and warmth are palpable and the close personal interest she takes in Dating4Disabled members has in no small measure contributed to the site’s success. She enjoys relating stories about the many couples –including those who lived on different continents - who found each other and tied the knot through Dating4Disabled.
“I’m always so impressed by their courage and positive attitude,” she says. “I’m glad I can use my experience to promote the site and use my people skills to play ‘matchmaker’. And when site members tell me they are getting married, well, that’s just about as good as it gets.”
Caption:“I thee wed”, James & Jeanne Baker at their wedding. The couple met through Dating4Disabled.com