Once a novel concept, online dating has become all but ubiquitous. About 30% of U.S. adults have, at one point, used either a dating app or website. With online platforms central to so many social interactions, it comes as no surprise that dating has followed suit.
Dating apps and websites have a responsibility to be digitally accessible. This responsibility is dictated, in part, by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. WCAG mandates that digital content and information technology meet certain standards of accessibility. These standards help to ensure that digital content can be used by everyone, regardless of ability level.
As dating apps continue to gain use and popularity, they need to make sure that they are doing all that they can to maintain accessibility standards. Here’s a quick look.
There are several aspects to dating apps that make them accessible. For one thing, dating apps are typically free. Popular apps and sites like Tinder, Bumble, and Match.com offer free membership options for users. There are also options for paid premium tier memberships with notable advantages.
Dating apps are also easy to read. Legibility is an important component of digital accessibility. The more popular apps and sites have strong contrast that makes viewing profiles easy to read. For example, Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge use bright background colors with large dark text.
Dating sites are also easy to download and access, whether on a phone, tablet, or personal computer.
Problem Areas- Lack of Representation
Despite these accessible characteristics, dating apps are not without their fair share of problems.
Lately, these services have come under fire as ableist and a lacking representation of people with disabilities.
One such voice of criticism belongs to Australian activist Jerusha Mather. In late 2021 she started a petition demanding that digital dating services make themselves more welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities.
In an interview with ADA Southeast, Mather, who herself lives with cerebral palsy, shared that her experience with dating apps has been less than ideal. She went on to say that her experiences have left her fearful that her “... boundaries won’t be protected.”
The petition, which to date has over 2,900 signatures, calls on Tinder, Bumble, and e-Harmony to be more inclusive of users of varying ability levels. On the petition page, Mather urges these services to:
“... include (People with disabilities) in your advertisements, educate your users about inclusive behaviors when dating PWD. Provide personal support for people with disabilities who may need extra support in finding love through mentoring and specialist coaching staff.”
Dating apps rely almost exclusively on visual information and content. Profiles are composed of pictures and written responses to text prompts. Though they often meet visual accessibility requirements, these services offer little to no recourse for individuals who may have visual impairments.
An article published by Arizona State University’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing analyzed the issues presented by this over-reliance on visual content. The study found that most dating apps are difficult to use, even with a screen reader.
Some apps are making headway to circumvent the reliance on visual information. According to the ASU study, OkCupid and Tinder have features such as labeled buttons, clear navigation, and screen-reader capabilities. Additionally, the popular dating site, Hinge, has an option for voice prompts on profile pages.
Why it Matters
It’s important to maintain accessibility in the digital space. Not only is it mandated, but it makes sense from a business perspective. Expanding user demographics to include people with differing abilities will only help a company grow in the long run.
In the case of these dating services, safety is also a consideration. Online dating is not without its risks (fraud, scams, catfishing, etc.). As such, it is important that the information provided on these platforms be easily accessed by people of all ability levels.
Dating apps and websites have these responsibilities to consider. Though progress is being made, there is still work to be done.