"I found him such a beautiful person, his difference didn't strike me as confronting," she says, reflecting on the night they met.
"What struck me first was Andy's sense of countenance and grace. I found it really magnetic, and it sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know who this person was, with this presence and intelligence, in this tall, striking body," she says.
Rachael fell in love with Andy, allured by the way he inhabited his body. They became inseparable.
In the early stages of their relationship, Rachael wasn't prepared for how society experienced and interacted with Andy's visible difference.
"I felt constantly astonished at how hostile and intrusive people's staring and attitudes were," she says. "Almost by proxy I felt burned by the same hostility and prejudice. I developed a sort of outrage and defensiveness when we were out in public.
"I started to stare people down if I caught them looking at Andy, or turned to face them if they said something abusive. I just couldn't believe it. Eventually I sort of had to learn, just as Andy has, to ignore the stares and not tune into them."
Difference in all of its forms is often feared
"I feel like I have been seen for who I am, and I see Andy. It feels like a very present and honest relationship," Rachael says.
Andy is used to people staring, making derogatory comments, and treating him differently. It has happened his whole life. He is not alone in experiencing this.
People with disabilities still face widespread misconceptions and stereotypes that feed into attitudes and behaviour in the wider community. As a result, discrimination is part of daily life for many people with disability. Unfortunately, difference in all of its forms is often feared.
When people don't understand, they can choose staring or discrimination as their way in dealing with it.
This in part is due to lack of representation of people with disabilities, which helps perpetuate difference being experienced as inherently negative.
"When you're unusual, people do stare. I'm 47, and I occasionally think when I am in my 80s, perhaps having a curved spine won't be that unusual. I can be finally normal."
Early in their relationship, the couple experienced judgement from Rachael's family.
"They were extremely disappointing initially, and it was quite traumatic," she says.
"My mother has had prejudice about difference, so she was appalled and horrified and sort of behaved like I'd brought potential shame upon on the family. My father assumed I had taken the role of a carer and he couldn't understand why I had encumbered myself.
"Over time their attitudes have really shifted, especially my mother. She now says she's a better person for knowing Andy."
Many people with disabilities are often not recognised as sexual beings
Within society they also face misconceptions about their relationship, and are often assumed to be siblings, instead of being in an intimate relationship.
"All sorts of things have gone through my head about why this keeps happening," Rachael says.
"It's very interesting that siblinghood is the first assumption people make about our closeness, rather than a partnership. It's almost like we're not regarded in our full personhood as a sensual being who could be in a romantic relationship."
Many people with disabilities experience these types of misconceptions and are often not recognised as sexual beings in need of intimate relationships, like any other.
For Rachael, being partnered with Andy has meant she has at times felt invisible when outside in the community.
"One of the things I have grappled with in this relationship is that through Andy's visibility, I have acquired invisibility. Often people don't recognise me when I am not with him, because he is so striking. I have had to get used to being overshadowed by his difference," she says.
This has also made it challenging in trying to explain to people that she also has a disability, one that is invisible to people.
"When people look at us I think people would assume that Andy is the one with chronic pain, but in fact I have chronic, disabling pain," Rachael explains.
I have almost felt disingenuous declaring that I have pain because I guess I am acutely aware of the assumptions people may carry.
Rachael's disabilities include a hereditary muscle disorder and fibromyalgia, a disorder characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain.
She has found it hard labelling her condition as a disability within the community, especially when she's around Andy, as she wonders how that appears due to the fact she is not conspicuously different or disabled.
"I don't like leaning on Andy, because I am aware he has his own constraints to deal with, though he is actually the carer in the relationship, as there are times where I am completely incapacitated both physically and mentally and he is much more steady, even though he lives with his own pain issues," she says.
'Every relationship involves care'
As Rachael speaks, she catches Andy's eyes.
"Every relationship involves care, more or less at different times, and it shifts to and fro," he says.
"Even if I am more doing more of the care, there is still some going both ways."
This unmistakable care and respect is evident to anyone who meets them.
"Being together has made me feel more confident in myself," Andy continues.
"I think Rachael has incredible heart, fearlessness about dealing with stuff. She doesn't push things away. We have gone through a lot of stuff together, so we are almost intertwined."
Rachael blushes with her friendly, welcoming face.
"Andy is one of the most calm, compassionate, intelligent, incredible people, with a huge amount of natural grace and subtlety," she says.
"I feel like I have been seen for who I am, and I see Andy. It feels like a very present and honest relationship."
To be seen by your partner for who you are, and be accepted and celebrated — surely the foundations of an ideal relationship.
Source: EveryDay ABC