Apps, chat groups help India's disabled find love, navigate life

MUMBAI • Disabled Indians are finding love and tips for everyday life on mobile apps and chat groups, as technology helps level the field for a community that is often stigmatised and ignored.

A mobile matchmaking app for the disabled has facilitated at least half a dozen marriages since its launch, while a WhatsApp message group for women with prosthetic legs helps them navigate everyday challenges, be it relationships or shoes.

"At least two-thirds of disabled people are single - and not from choice," said Ms Kalyani Khona, 24, founder of the app Inclov, short for "inclusive love".

"Dating and matchmaking sites are not really inclusive, and there is such a stigma around disabled people that they are resigned to being alone," she said.

India is home to nearly 27 million disabled people. They are largely an invisible minority, with a lack of access to public transport and to spaces such as restaurants and cinemas. Women are particularly at a disadvantage, often considered a burden by their families because they cannot marry easily.

Inclov, developed with money raised from crowdfunding, has about 19,000 registered users in India, with 80 per cent of them men.

"We are aware that not everyone with a disability has access to a smartphone," Ms Khona told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Access for women is particularly limited, and they are also more inhibited," she said.

About 15 women, all with prosthetic legs, get together on a private shared space on WhatsApp to share their common experiences - talking about pregnancy, menstruation, as well as what footwear is practical but also cute. The women are all in their 20s and 30s; most are single.

"All of us in the chat group know the challenges that women with leg amputations face, and we support each other through everything," said Ms Antara Telang, 25, who lost a leg when a branch fell on her during monsoon rains.

"It's not just about our disabilities; it's about interacting with people who understand what you're going through."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 05, 2017, with the headline 'Apps, chat groups help India's disabled find love, navigate life'. Print Edition | Subscribe