A Valentine’s Day Special
It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. So, we decided to mark this time of year by inviting Dan and Viola Dwyer on the show. They are a married couple, and we invited them on Disability Rap to talk about their marriage and common misconceptions about people with disabilities in relationships.
At the age of nine, Dan was in a hit and run accident that left him in a coma for three months and resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury that he lives with today. Throughout his elementary and high school years, he attended Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia, learning alongside children with physical and developmental disabilities. This experience taught him how to love others and empathize with them. He studied Political Science at Edinboro University and sought a career in government.
Viola was born with a genetic, neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). She grew up using a wheelchair and continues to do so to this day. She attended the same elementary school, Widener Memorial School, as Dan, her husband, but they missed each other by one year! She studied Entrepreneurship and International Relations at Johns Hopkins University and pursued a career in financial services. After working in various roles within the financial services industry, she went back to school to earn an MBA from Duke University.
Last year, Dan and Viola started a YouTube channel called The Ginchiest, where they talk about disability experiences and what these experiences teach people about being human. They are working to create a society where differences are intriguing and accepted, not shameful and feared. Keep an eye on their YouTube channel for an upcoming video with FREED’s very own Carl Sigmond and Brian Snyder. They will be discussing emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.
Here’s their video, 10 Seconds to Love, that we play a clip from on the show.
ANA ACTON, HOST: From KVMR Nevada City, this is Disability Rap. I’m Ana Acton with my co-host Carl Sigmond.
CARL SIGMOND, HOST: It’s February, and Valentine’s day is just around the corner. So we decided to mark this time of year by inviting Dan and Viola Dwyer on the show. They are a married couple, and we invited them on Disability Rap to talk about their marriage and common misconceptions about people with disabilities in relationships.
ACTON: So, I’d like to start by introducing Dan to the show. At the age of nine, Dan was in a hit-and-run accident that left him in a coma for three months and resulted in a traumatic brain injury that he lives with today. Throughout his elementary and high school years, he attended Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia, learning alongside children with physical and developmental disabilities. This experience taught him how to love others and empathize with them. He studied political science at Edinboro University and sought a career in government. Welcome, Dan!
DAN DWYER: Thank you, Carl and Ana.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): Thank you, Carl and Ana.
SIGMOND: And I want to introduce his wife, Viola. She was born with a genetic neurological muscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy and grew up using a wheelchair, which she continues to use today. She attended Widener, the same elementary school as Dan, but they missed each other by one year. She studied entrepreneurship and international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and pursued a career in financial services. After working in various roles in the financial services industry, she went back to school to earn an MBA from Duke University.
ACTON: So, welcome, both of you, to the show. So perfect to have you on for this special edition of Disability Rap to celebrate Valentine’s Day, love, and all those great things.
VIOLA DWYER: Thank you so much.
ACTON: So, last year, you guys started a YouTube channel called The Ginchiest, where you talk about disability experience and what these experiences teach people about being human. And you are working to create a society where differences are intriguing and accepted, not shameful and feared.
SIGMOND: We wanted to begin the interview by playing a clip from one of your recent videos. This is a clip from 10 Seconds to Love, which you released a little over a month ago.
VIOLA DWYER: I thought to share with you a story of when we were first getting to know each other back in 2012. We met in January and we started dating pretty quickly thereafter, well from February on. And when I was getting to know Dan, I noticed that he would respond in our discussions with a lot of one word responses.
DAN DWYER: Yep.
VIOLA DWYER: “Yep, nah, okay…” And I would get frustrated. And I would say, “Come on, Dan. That’s all you have to say?” And he seemed to settle and think that, yeah, no, that’s all I gotta say. It didn’t seem as though he had much more. But I noticed… I started to notice – it was over time – that if I just waited, if I waited a little bit longer to make a comment, to say, “Oh, come on.” Or, “Is there anything else?” Or, worse, if I would guess and then just say it for him, which I still tend – I think – to do sometimes. Do you think I finish your sentences a lot, Dan?
DAN DWYER: Just sometimes.
VIOLA DWYER: When did it start getting better?
DAN DWYER: 2014, I noticed it getting better, and that was when I started to think she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
SIGMOND: So again, that was a clip from 10 Seconds to Love, by Dan and Viola Dwyer, our guests today on Disability Rap. Dan, I wanted to begin with you. When Viola started to wait and give you more space to talk and express yourself, what was that like for you?
DAN DWYER: Oh no. Oh crap. She means business.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He said, oh crap. She means business.
DAN DWYER: And then I began talking and haven’t been quiet since.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He said, and then I began talking and haven’t been quiet since.
SIGMOND: Awesome. And Viola, in those early days, what is one thing that surprised you? Or, what do you remember learning from Dan that you would not have learned if you did not wait?
VIOLA DWYER: I remember learning his sense of humor, his opinions, and in essence, his personality. I noticed that when people would just stop and not continue to listen, he wouldn’t reveal more of himself to them. And so, I wanted to do something a little bit… Well, I wanted to be different. And I’m glad that I did because I fell in love with Dan. And so do we.
ACTON: So, Viola and Dan, what are the main misconceptions that you feel like you face when you’re out and about? What are those stereotypes that you encounter around having a disability, about being in a relationship? And how do you think those are representative of the culture that we live in?
DAN DWYER: Well, I remember how some people just thought we were friends.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): Well, I remember how some people just thought that we were friends, he says.
VIOLA DWYER: And that’s pretty common, that people will make that assumption. I remember… Actually, we both remember one July 4th where we were just sitting and watching the fireworks, and this man was striking up a conversation. And we said that we were an engaged couple at the time. And he was in utter shock. He just couldn’t believe it. It was like… We just blew his mind.
And that I wouldn’t say is as common, but I also think another misconception is that we have a typical, platonic, non-intimate relationship. It’s like, oh, we couldn’t possibly be sexually active or intimate. And that’s I think representative, big time, of what society thinks of people with disabilities. Oftentimes, we’re thought of as asexual, not capable of even having romantic relationships, different partners, and not full, fully integrated members of society.
ACTON: Yeah, I think I hear this a lot from people with disabilities, about just those simple misconceptions about love and sex and all those things, and seeing us as asexual. I think that’s a good way to put it. I want to hear just a little bit more about your love story, actually. So where did you meet? When did you meet? And tell us… You’re married, right? So tell us a little bit about how the two of you came together.
VIOLA DWYER: Do you want to start, Dan?
DAN DWYER: We met through mutual friends. They were having a dinner and invited me…
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He says, we met through mutual friends and they invited us out to dinner.
DAN DWYER: And we stayed in touch and went down to DC where the sparks went off for me at least.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He says, and we stayed in touch. We went down to DC and the sparks went off at least for me.
VIOLA DWYER: And that was for a birthday party that was just a month later. But we started dating very quickly after that party in Washington, DC. I will admit that I wasn’t really thinking of having a romantic relationship per se. I was wanting to keep things pretty casual, and Dan, I think, was, was… I don’t know. Like, in the very, very beginning –
DAN DWYER: I was more open to it because she is gorgeous.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He says, I was more open to it because she is gorgeous.
VIOLA DWYER: And I’m not making up those words, people. He really did just say that. But thanks.
DAN DWYER: Yeah.
VIOLA DWYER: Nah, I mean, I think I was very taken by the connection I felt to Dan very early on. It was overwhelming. We had, like, a physical and emotional connection that happened very quickly. I think we’re very fortunate to have found each other.
ACTON: Ah, the complexities of love and relationships. Thank you for sharing that.
VIOLA DWYER: Yeah.
ACTON: So, let me just move on here to talking a little bit about… What is Ginchiest? Tell us about your YouTube channel and what you’re trying to do with it.
DAN DWYER: All you, dear.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He says, all you, dear.
VIOLA DWYER: So, we came up… Actually, this is Dan’s term: the Ginchiest. Because he used to call me the Ginchiest, which means… Apparently, this is a slang that was used in a song from the 1950s. And we have a video on it that’s called, What is the Ginchiest, so you can check out that original video and song. But it essentially means someone who’s really cool and – you know – awesome and the greatest.
And I think that that’s what we’re trying to… Well, we’re trying to change perceptions on disability and we’re doing that in a two-pronged approach. We’re trying to have people who don’t have any experience or maybe a little bit of experience with disability but are curious about it, or want to develop their curiosity, and those who know disability well. Maybe they live with it or they have a family member who is disabled. And we want to help them see themselves in our videos but also feel as though they have the confidence to manage the unique, everyday experiences that people with disabilities encounter.
ACTON: So finding the cool in disability. Welcome to the cool club, huh?
VIOLA DWYER: Yeah, there you go. Well, I really do think that disability for far too long has been seen as something so negative, so shameful. But it is quite an opportunity because no one can claim disassociation from a disability. One day, you live to be old enough, if you’re lucky to live to be old enough, you will encounter some experience that is mirroring of the disability experience, that is the disability experience. And so, it is human. It’s a part of our human experience. And when people realize this, then they can learn about their own community. And that, I think, is something that we need to remind people of, or maybe sometimes remind ourselves.
ACTON: Thank you. Absolutely. I’m on board. So, I want to ask you a little bit of love advice. So, it’s Valentine’s Day coming up. So, talk to us a little bit about what you attribute the success of your relationship. Like, what I really want is some love advice that you have for all listeners.
DAN DWYER: Be willing to get rejected.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): One is: be willing to get rejected.
DAN DWYER: And I mean by being confident in yourself.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He says, I mean by being confident in yourself.
DAN DWYER: You may get the prettiest girl here, but you may also fail.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He said, you may end up getting the prettiest girl or you may fail.
DAN DWYER: And the trick is persistence.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): He says, the trick is persistence.
VIOLA DWYER: What I find – and this is whether you have a disability or not – that people are… Or rather, it’s surprising how closed off people are to the potential love out there in the world that you could form – you know – a wonderful romantic relationship with another person. People have – you know – their types. They have a list. They have these preconceived notions of who they’re already compatible with. And I think that that’s really dangerous to hold on to. If we let those go a little bit, we open ourselves up to a lot more out there. And I’m not saying this guarantees… Like Dan [said] – you know – you might fail. You might not find the person. But you’re opening yourself up to lovable of all kinds and all types, and that makes life, I think, much more enriched and fulfilling.
ACTON: That’s great. No, I think you’re right. We do see that a lot where people are like… I even see that within the disability community, where someone with a significant disability says: Oh, I would never… I would never date someone else with a disability, right? Or vice versa, I’ve heard it.
VIOLA DWYER: Mind-blowing. Mind-blowing.
ACTON: Yeah. So my last question for you guys is: How do you keep the spark alive? what do you do to keep that love going?
VIOLA DWYER: He just hands it off to me.
VIOLA DWYER: You know, we’re very lovey-dovey. I mean, we even say it. We show it on our videos. We’re very, I think, very affectionate towards one another. People say – or I read – that there are these, like, phases of a romantic relationship, where it’s all about that physical and infatuation in the beginning stages, and it kinda just – you know – stabilizes. And I think that we… I don’t know. Like I feel like we, kind of… We have, like, an up and down, in the sense that sometimes we go back to those moments of randiness and – you know – just wanting to show our love in a physical way. I will say we’re fairly affectionate. We do that every day.
DAN DWYER: You pretty much nailed it. We are lovey-dovey to one another.
VIOLA DWYER (repeating Dan): So, he says, you pretty much nailed it. We are lovey-dovey to one another.
ACTON: You’ve been listening to our interview with Dan and Viola Dwyer on this Valentine’s Day Special. Their YouTube channel again is The Ginchiest, that’s G-I-N-C-H-I-E-S-T. Keep an eye on their channel for an upcoming video with FREED’s very own Carl Sigmond and Brian Snyder. They will be discussing emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.
This show was produced and edited by Carl Sigmond. Special thanks to Sam Gerdes for her support. To listen to this show again, go to FREED.org/disabilityrap or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Ana Acton with Carl Sigmond for another edition of Disability Rap.