‘My boyfriend is in a wheelchair – people mistake me for his CARER’

Helen and Dave challenge assumptions about interabled relationships, advocating love beyond disability stereotypes, inspiring others with their TikTok journey.
Helen and Dave challenge assumptions about interabled relationships, advocating love beyond disability stereotypes, inspiring others with their TikTok journey.
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A woman, whose boyfriend is a wheelchair user, says she is often mistaken for his carer.

Helen Hickling and her partner, Dave Eastham, both 29, met on Tinder in April 2018 and clicked.

While Dave uses a wheelchair following an accident that left him paralysed, the couple have faced people who are often surprised to learn their relationship started after Dave’s paralysis or assume she is working for him as a carer.

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But the Manchester-based couple is hoping to end the stigma of interabled relationships.

“Sometimes people that are working can mistake or assume I’m a carer,” Helen, who works as an account manager, told Need To Know.

Helen and Dave challenge assumptions about interabled relationships, advocating love beyond disability stereotypes, inspiring others with their TikTok journey.
Helen with her boyfriend, Dave. (Picture: Jam Press)

“In the airport, staff will ask me what assistance Dave needs rather than speaking to him directly.

“People talking to me instead of Dave happens a lot, even in restaurants they will ask me if he wants the chair moving out of the way or will he want to sit on it rather than asking him directly.

“It doesn’t bother me as much now, because I know it’s not intentional, and I go out of my way not to answer for him and either ask the question again to him or ask them to check with him.

“We sometimes get backhanded comments.

“People seem to assume we were together before he broke his back, and when they learn we met once he was already a wheelchair user they tend to say ‘oh wow’ – as if it’s not expected to meet and date someone in a wheelchair.

“It did used to bother me – I would get annoyed as it is rude, and it’s people judging a situation and assuming I’m his carer or that he cannot speak for himself.

“It’s insulting to both of us.

“It’s insulting Dave, not treating him like any other 29-year-old man.

Helen and Dave challenge assumptions about interabled relationships, advocating love beyond disability stereotypes, inspiring others with their TikTok journey.
Helen with her boyfriend, Dave. (Picture: Jam Press)

“And it’s insulting to me, assuming we aren’t together or I need to speak on his behalf.”

Dave added: “Over the years I’ve grown a tolerance to it but it can be frustrating and undermining as people just see the wheelchair and not the person in it.

“But because of the type of person I am, I just try to see the funnier side of things and not let it get to me.”

Dave broke his back in a road traffic accident in Thailand in June 2015, when he was hit by a car while holidaying with friends.

While he now uses a wheelchair, the couple say it doesn’t make theirs any different from other relationships.

Helen and Dave challenge assumptions about interabled relationships, advocating love beyond disability stereotypes, inspiring others with their TikTok journey.
Dave Eastham. (Picture: Jam Press)

Helen said: “We both work full-time jobs, we both contribute to the relationship.

“With Dave being a wheelchair user, that means there are certain things he cannot do around the house, like help change the bedding or change a lightbulb, but I’m happy to do that.

“He can cook, drive, and pretty much do everything an able-bodied male can do – he just does it sat down!

“Ours is not much different from any other relationship.”

Now, the couple are looking to the future and growing their family.

Helen said: “When we were getting more serious and had been together for a while, the conversation of family and babies came up which is something we both want.

“Due to Dave’s accident leaving him paralysed, we had to go down the IVF route to have a baby, which is something I knew would have to happen as Dave had mentioned it in passing after the first couple of dates.

“Unfortunately we weren’t successful after three tries, but plan to try again in the future.”

The couple share insights into their relationship on TikTok (@daveandhelen) – including how Dave can do things like drive, ride a bike, and ski – and encourage other people not to let disabilities affect love.

Helen said: “Don’t overthink it and just go for it.

“If you like someone for who they are, you like their personality and values, then don’t let their disability get in the way.

“Most disabled people manage and more than cope with their disability independently so it wouldn’t affect the partner or the relationship.

“Plus to be truly honest there are also some perks too – we get great parking spaces with a blue badge, and sometimes can jump queues.”

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