Rachel Neiman
June 4, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Israel’s specialization in matchmaking and search engine optimization has helped turn Dating4Disabled into the top site for disabled persons seeking their soulmates worldwide.

Dean is from England and suffers from Spina Bifida. Amber from Montana was handicapped following a car accident. Despite these challenges, the two traveled thousands of miles to be together and are engaged to be married this summer.

Amber and Dean found each other from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean through a website called Dating4Disabled – D4D for short – a free online community and dating service founded in Israel especially for people with disabilities. The popular international website ranks first in Google searches for “disabled dating”, third in Yahoo! for “disabled services” and fourth in Google searches for “disabled” overall.

The growing community has become a global gathering place for the disabled with over 28,000 unique visitors each month. Currently D4D has members throughout the US and Canada, South Africa, England, Australia, South America, Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, China, Japan, Bulgaria, Russia, Italy. Through forums, blogs, group chat and instant messaging, over 8,600 members share resources, make friends and create valuable social ties.

Although not specifically for Jews or Israelis, the key to D4D’s success lies as much in the age-old tradition of Jewish matchmaking as with the modern Israeli specialty of search engine optimization (SEO). D4D was developed in January 2006 by Interdate, an Israeli IT company that specializes in website building, online community portals and Internet marketing. In addition to corporate websites and portals, Interdate developed, manages and runs Shedate, the largest dating website for women in Israel.

Interdate’s founders, Yuval Katz and Daniel Brunicki, decided to focus on the disabled community out of both entrepreneurial and social concerns. “D4D was born out of our understanding that, although they surf a great deal on the Internet, the disabled population the world over was under-attended,” Brunicki explains to ISRAEL21c.

“On the other hand, we had advanced Internet capabilities. So we decided to do a good deed. We view the site as a community service, and beyond that, there’s also a business opportunity; there are 30 million disabled persons in the US alone. Our business model is ad-based – the site is free and we don’t intend to ever charge payment – but we do intend to attract ads that are relevant to the community: services, exhibitions, etc., with a special emphasis on the US market,” he adds.

The other key to D4D’s success is Merryl Kaplan, manager of Member Services and D4D’s unofficial matchmaker. “I’m pretty good at pulling people in,” says Kaplan, whose personal involvement is unusual in the cold cruel world of online dating.

“I get very close to people. I have a woman from California who’s an amputee. She met someone a month and a half ago on the site. Now she just met him in person and she called me. She had a wonderful time. Another woman wrote to tell me she just went to Sweden to meet her guy. Who knows what will happen, but it’s exciting!”

The Interdate team is also sensitive to the unique needs of the D4D community and the site was constructed specifically for special needs: it is easily accessible, easy to navigate and its simple format was designed for sight impaired reading software such as Zoom Text.

“A lot of disabled people are so overjoyed to find a site where they feel accepted,” Kaplan notes. “I get mail from people who used regular dating sites, and as soon as they made their disability known, they were dumped. The relief and sense of ease they have from finding a community where people understand is immense.”

She also provides dating dos and don’ts, as in D4D’s most recent newsletter: “I’ve been asked to pass on advice that many men are happy to be ‘courted’ by women; so ladies, e-mail that man you’ve noticed but hesitated to contact.”

On a more serious note, Kaplan is also responsible for the site’s Safety Rules section. “This is a vulnerable population and there are a lot of scammers, so much of my time is spent reviewing IP numbers and blocking suspicious ones. We block both automatically and manually. Part of my job is also teaching users to identify potential scammers – we do that through our newsletter, and write about it in our forums, so they won’t get stung.”

Brunicki adds that the site guarantees anonymity unless a member decides to “go public”. Also, as D4D is free of charge, it requires no credit card information, ID or social security numbers, phone numbers or addresses.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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