MUMBAI, Nov 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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 Kalyani Khona, 24, founder of matchmaking 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 movie theatres.
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; men make up 80 percent.
"We are aware that not everyone with a disability has access to a smartphone," 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 pregnancy, menstruation, and also what footwear is practical, but also cute.
Set up by three women who shared the same prosthetist in Mumbai, the women are all in their 20s and 30s; most are single.
It is not a support group, said Antara Telang, who lost a leg when a branch fell on her during monsoon rains.
"All of us in the chat group know the challenges that women with leg amputations face, and we support each other through everything," said Telang, 25.
"It's not just about our disabilities; it's about interacting with people who understand what you're going through. Posting on Reddit doesn't provide the same kind of support that five people saying 'OMG yes, me too!' does." (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)