Dating app helps Swedes with disabilities find love

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Dating app helps Swedes with disabilities find love
Aline Groh (L), project manager for 'DigiVi', Therese Wappsell (2ndL), a 'DigiVi' user, project manager Magnus Linden (C) and user Sira Rehn (R) meet to discuss how to improve the dating app, at a cafe in Uppsala. Photo: Viken Kantarci/AFP

For 24-year-old Sira Rehn, a dating app for people with mild intellectual disabilities and autism has opened up the world of online dating and a chance to find love in a safe space.


"In here I know that people will not judge me, you just have to be yourself," says Rehn, who long felt excluded from other popular dating apps used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Launched in Sweden last November, the DigiVi app is reserved for people with autism or mild intellectual disabilities, specifically those with an IQ of between 50 and 69.

The app features a  simplified user interface and requires an in-person meeting to create an account in order to ensure the security of users, who are often victims of abuse on social media.

Seated at a cafe in Uppsala, north of Stockholm, Rehn sips a lemonade while tapping energetically on a cell phone. Rehn identifies as non-binary and uses the gender neutral Swedish pronoun "hen", equivalent to "they" in English.

Excluded from online world

"I've just started to chat with someone!", Rehn tells an AFP journalist. "We share the same interests, she seems nice. I can't wait to see what will happen... I dream of finding love," they gush.

Rehn's profile features a photo and a list of interests and hobbies: singing, dogs and watching movies.

"On other platforms I used to hide my disability but it's a big part of who I am. People didn't want to talk to me when they found out about it," they recall.

DigiVi -- a contraction of the words "Digital" and "Vi", which means "us" in Swedish -- was developed by an organisation that helps people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

The app's functions are stripped down to the bare minimum: a profile, a discussion forum, and a help button.


"Unfortunately a lot of people with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities, are shut out of the digital world because a lot of things on the internet are complicated even though they  don't need to be," explains Magnus Linden, one of the app's founders.

"Those who need a lot of help in their daily lives usually need help with their love and sex lives too," he says.

To join the app, users must meet with a DigiVi representative, who verifies their identity and helps them create an account. The app has representatives in around 20 Swedish cities. Each account is linked to the user's social security number, which Linden says prevents misuse.

Sira Rehn, a user of 'DigiVi', shows their profile on the dating app that was developed exclusively for people with mild intellectual disabilities or autism. Photo: Viken Kantarci/AFP

No nudes

"It's comforting to know that it can't be downloaded by just anyone," says Therese Wappsell, a user with a mild intellectual disability who helped develop the app. 

She says she and others with similar disabilities are "especially vulnerable to violence". Worries range from unwanted explicit pictures to "being pressured to send things you don't want to send, or you meet people that you have met online and they are someone different than they said they were," says app co-founder Aline Groh.

"There are people who abuse other people and there's a risk for people with disabilities -- it's more difficult for them to get appropriate support for that and ask for help," she says.

"With DigiVi we can easily see if someone's causing trouble and act on it." Moderators on the app -- where nude photos are banned -- can permanently exclude users who behave inappropriately and contact police if necessary.


The love lives of people with intellectual disabilities and autism have been highlighted in several reality shows in recent years, including "Love on the Spectrum", "Born this Way" and "Down for Love".

"I think it's important for people to see that we can find love too. That disabilities don't matter and the point is the feelings inside," says Rehn of the series.

DigiVi currently has 180 regular users. "It's spreading, our goal is to be be represented in every city," co-founder Groh says, adding that "we have heard from people who have created new relationships."

"About one percent of the population has intellectual disabilities, about 5 percent have autism and 15 percent have some form of disability, so there are really a lot of people who can profit from DigiVi."

By AFP's Viken Kantarci


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