It’s that time of the year again, Valentine’s Day. And, as Cupid let his final arrow fall for the last episode of Channel 4’s The Undateables recently, it got me thinking about their interpretation of what it’s like to have a disability and to go dating.
The popular programme, now in its sixth series, followed a handful of new singletons at the start of the New Year as they took the plunge in the hope of finding the sacred four-letter word – L.O.V.E.
Whether or not you’ve ever watched an episode, or are indeed a fan, it seems to me that finding a date is the least of the singletons worries, when you consider that Channel 4’s crass choice of wording for the title is itself capable of delivering the most hurtful knockback of all – implying that those featured are ‘undateable’.
Even after Cupid shoots his arrow into the beginning part of the phrase in the opening sequence allowing ‘un’ to fall to the side and leaving the words ‘dateables’ intact, the suggestion has already been made and more to the point not once have I ever heard someone say: ‘Oh you know, it’s what’s-his-name from that programme…the dateables’. Have you?
If that wasn’t enough, in their introduction to the series online, Channel 4 openly writes: ‘people living with challenging conditions are often considered undateable – this series meets a few and follows their attempts to find love.’ – Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but find it incredibly ironic that for all their hard work in trying to educate audiences and overcome stereotypes of what it means to live with a disability and to go dating, their choice of wording suggests that the creators clearly have a great deal still to learn themselves.
This is particularly interesting when you take into account the fact that Channel 4 is also host to some of the best television showcasing disability and diversity – most noticeably for their coverage of the 2012 Paralympic Games and not forgetting the tongue-in-cheek topical commentary show The Last Leg.
Still, back to the topic at hand – and with the weight of these apparent odds stacked against them, a circumstance that unfortunately is all too familiar when you have a disability, it was up to the individuals featured to once again defy convention and show that they’re every bit as dateable, funny, charming, sweet, intelligent and ordinary as the next person in their search for love – something they did wonderfully.
And do you know what? Channel 4’s saving grace was the individuals they featured. Take chirpy 23-year-old postman Sam, who let us all in on one of his best chat-up lines: ‘Are you a stamp, because you’re first class.’ Then there was 19 year old Athlete Pani with Acondroplasia – a common form of Dwarfism, who dreams of one day making it as a Paralympic Athlete and was also looking for someone special.
Personally, I found one of the most poignant stories featured to be that of 38-year-old Ian. Ian has a degenerative eye condition meaning that he has been gradually loosing his vision since birth and will one day become blind. As the narrator delicately explained, Ian was ‘hoping to meet his perfect match while he still has time to admire her’. Despite his disability, Ian is an incredibly talented photographer and until the time the programme was aired, only a select few of his friends knew of his condition.
While of course their disabilities were an important part of their stories, not once did any of those featured dwell on their circumstances, and just like anyone else who has ever been on a first date, they were more concerned with whether the person they were meeting would like them, whether or not the conversation would flow and what they’d make of each other.
As the saying goes, there’s someone out there for everyone, and while those featured in this year’s series may not have found their forever love just yet, I’m sure they will find that someone special one day. As for Channel 4’s interpretation of disability and dating, well I can’t help but feel that there’s a long way to go.
Written by Stephanie Stone.
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