Australian matchmaker Sara Fantauzzo came up with www.SpecialSomeone.com.au to link up people with special needs after watching her autistic brother struggle to make friendships.
"I've grown up with a brother with a very mild disability and I've seen him very low and very depressed as a direct result of rejections," Melbourne-based Fantauzzo, who set up the Web site with her husband Otis nearly a year ago, told Reuters.
"I got sick of seeing Marc at home on a Saturday night or having him come along with my friends because he never had anyone to go out himself."
Fantauzzo came up the idea of a Web site to match up people with special needs after noticing her brother joining a few community groups with people with different disabilities and these groups were far more accepting of a wide range of problems.
Similarly American Ricky Durham set up www.prescription4love.com, which matches people suffering from a list of health conditions, after realizing how difficult it was for his brother Keith who had Crohns Disease to meet someone.
"It was hard for him to disclose his disease to anyone, but it was really hard for him to tell someone he had a colostomy bag," Durham told Reuters.
"I thought if he met someone at a Web site where everyone had the same condition, there would be nothing to disclose."
His brother died in 2004, aged 41, as the Web site was being developed but Atlanta-based Durham pushed ahead.
The site launched two years ago and now has about 5,300 members from the United States, Australia, Britain, and Israel suffering from more than 50 types of illnesses and disorders including multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, lupus, Tourette Syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, and obesity.
HONESTY IN SEARCH OF LOVE
"The ex gave me the gift that keeps on giving ... Herpes," wrote one member. "What I'm looking for is someone who understands why I am on this site and is still willing to live our lives to the fullest and not let this "problem" stop us."
Analysis company Hitwise estimates there are now more than 1,350 dating sites in the United States alone which is up from 876 three years ago with 44 percent catering for niche groups.
Specialsomeone and Prescription4Love are two of a growing number of niche dating sites emerging for singles who don't fit the traditional mould, with strong growth also in matchmaker sites based on religion, sports, pet ownership and music.
Others include ones catering for people with disabilities like Disabled Dating World or ones for people with STDs like PositiveSingles.com.
Durham believes niche Web sites are successful because they are safe spaces for people seeking friendship or love who risk serious embarrassment talking about their condition with others who cannot relate to it. It also gives them a support network.
Large dating sites like RSVP.com, Match.com, eHarmony and have the general market in online dating covered but Hannah Schwartz, general manager of RSVP.com, said niche sites were becoming increasingly popular.
"Niche sites cater to things like religion, sexual preference, ethnicity, lifestyle, hobbies, and dietary needs," Schwartz told Reuters.
(Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)