OPW INTERVIEW - Nov 23 - Wayne Stillerman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 23 years ago. The disease and his recent divorce became his inspiration for Datebility.com, which he launched in early 2009. His site caters to daters within the disability community. – Jenn Rubin
Why did you want to start Datebility?
I have multiple sclerosis, and I was diagnosed 23 years ago. MS is a progressive disease, and mine progressed to the point where I was having trouble walking.
Several years ago, I found myself going through a divorce. I was single and on my own. I went on traditional dating websites, and I didn’t find them to my liking. I felt like I was being prejudged based on my disability. I wanted a place I could feel comfortable exposing my disability and telling people about it.
Can you estimate the size of site’s membership base?
We’re currently closing in on 500 members.
How has the site been customized for the disability community?
We have bloggers that are from the disability community who understand our members. There is Gary Karp. He’s a paraplegic, but he’s also an author, keynote speaker and expert juggler.
We also have Dr. Jenni Skyler, who founded the Intimacy Institute. She’s a sex therapist and provides useful information anyone can use.
Tell me about the site’s virtual dating feature.
Virtual dating is wonderful, especially if you’re disabled and have mobility challenges.
A member goes on Datebility and invites another member on a virtual date. They’ll set up an avatar, which is computer image they pick. The virtual date takes place in a nice setting, like a beach cafe or restaurant. You can type in various messages as you do on a traditional email. If you type in “LOL,” your avatar laughs. You can you even blow a kiss or hold your partner’s hand. A virtual date can also be used as a tool to pre-screen your date.
Have you created the virtual date platform yourself?
We’re partnered with OmniDate. We actually have a contractual arrangement with them, which allows us to use their software to bring it directly to Datebility members.
Besides OmniDate, who are some of your other partner organizations?
We don’t do a lot of advertising, so we’ve tried to work with a lot the organizations and foundations that are in the disability community, like Gilda’s Club, The Wellness Community and the MS Society. We have even co-hosted presentations with these organizations around South Florida, where we are based.
How do charitable contributions play a role in these partnerships?
We have the ability to put a “Donate Now” button for any charity on our website. It’s a secure system. For example, members who would like to donate to the National MS Society can just click, and the money will go directly to the charity.
Are there other sites out there similar to Datebility?
There are a couple of websites out there that are for the disability community, but they don’t have the features that I mentioned.
What is Datebility’s Lifetime One-Time membership plan?
In today’s tough times, many people do not have a lot of disposable income to be spending monthly on a dating website. We have a membership called Lifetime One-Time. For $37.99, they can have a lifetime membership to Datebility.
Nobody knows how long it’s going to take to find that special partner. This membership plan takes the pressure off people. Also, they don’t have to worry about a monthly auto renewal on their credit card.
What type of financial resources does it take to get a site like Datebility up and running?
It took about $75,000, but we’re using programmers that aren’t here in the United States. It makes it a little less expensive that way.
Are only those with a disability allowed access to the site?
We are a fully inclusive dating site and want everybody to enjoy the features that we have and welcome anyone to join.
Where do you hope to see the site a year or two from now?
I see us with probably about 10,000 to 15,000 members in the next year. The disability community is 54 million strong in the United States, so it’s a big market. It’s over 650 million worldwide.
What about in terms of content development?
We are in the process right now of soliciting a new speaker to write about the travel industry. Anyone who is disabled and has to travel knows it’s a difficult thing at times. We’re also looking for a diet and nutrition blogger.
How do you see your personal dating journey playing out?
I met my fiancée on a free site, PlentyofFish, which is a very, very popular site. She was able to look beyond my disability and see me for the person that I am.
If you met your fiancée on PlentyofFish, why would you advise daters in the disability community to use Datebility over more-established sites?
We specialize in the needs of the disability community and see a wonderful opportunity to bring people together. We don’t feel we’re in competition with the traditional sites, such as Singlesnet, Match, eHarmony, PlentyofFish, etc. I’d encourage people to try a few different websites to see where they’re most comfortable.