My thoughts on The Undateables

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Last week Channel 4 aired the final episode of its reality series The Undateables, a dating show for disabled people. For those who are unfamiliar, individuals with any disability are invited to appear on the show, now in its sixth season. With the help of dating agencies and personal introduction services, they take part in blind dates, speed dating and match-making in the hope of finding love.

I’ve seen almost every episode since it premiered in 2012 and I have to say I am a fan. I appreciate the mounting controversy surrounding the show, particularly within the disabled community, although I disagree with much of the negative criticism. For this reason, as someone with a physical disability myself, I though it time to put forward my point of view.

Firstly I’d like to point out that all participants have applied of their own free will. Following their appearances, all have reported a positive experience, even those who did not find love as a direct result of the show. Tammy from series 5 says, “I put myself forward for The Undateables. At no point during filming did I feel like I was being used for entertainment. It’s an entertaining show [but] we all just want to find someone who loves us for us.”

The program has been invaluable and life changing for many, leading to long term relationships, marriage and babies. Furthermore, despite the claims of some, disabled individuals have not been coupled exclusively with other disabled people.

For example, successful matches include Brent with tourettes who married able-bodied Challis, and Steve with Crouzon syndrome who married able-bodied Vicky whom he met on Twitter after the show gave him much needed confidence. Then there’s Carolyne from the first series whose childhood sweetheart left her when she became paralysed following a spinal cord lesion. The Undateables introduced her to Dean who is also able-bodied. The couple had their first child together in 2014. These are just a few of the many success stories.

Some critics have called into question the editing but it would seem to me that great care has been taken to ensure fair and accurate representation. I have no issue with the tone or editing and have never found it to be exploitative, patronising, sensationalist or insincere. I feel The Undateables realistically and positively depicts a range of disabilities thereby raising awareness and breaking down social barriers.

James, who has Asperger’s took part in the show last year. He told ITV’s This Morning, “It provides a lot of education on a wide range of things, not just conditions… The fact that people will tune in knowing they will learn a bit more, maybe take away the stigma, is a very positive thing. It paints a very positive picture of British audiences.”

The format itself is understandably a contentious issue: why is it not the norm for disabled people to participate in mainstream dating shows such as First Dates, also a product of Channel 4, and ITV’s Take Me Out? Why must the disabled community be confined to a show exclusively for them?

There is no definitive answer, though I would argue that it comes down to choice and demand.  Those who take part make the choice to do so. Many have learning disabilities and are supported by family, friends and caregivers, as viewers will know. Therefore to suggest they are being taken advantage of by producers, which some critics have, I feel implies that these people are not able to form rational decisions and make up their own minds. This is inaccurate and unjustified. Secondly, the show is now in its sixth year which proves there is continuing demand from both the viewing public and applicants eager to find love, friendship and companionship.

I also disagree with the criticism that the show is ‘inspiration porn’. Yes you may hear the occasional ‘bless them’, ‘aw how sweet’ and ‘good for them’ from able-bodied viewers – how very dare they indeed. But to conclude that this is a form of ‘inspiration porn’ is in my opinion, vastly overstretching the mark.

I take issue with the term ‘inspiration porn’, particularly in relation to The Undateables. Frankly even if viewers are in some way inspired by the determination and go-getting attitude of those they see on the show, why is this so awful? I cannot speak for the entire viewing public obviously, but I have watched with friends and family over the years and the feedback has always been one of support and genuine happiness for the love seekers. Not one person I have spoken to has ever watched the show just to make them feel better about themselves. Frankly this is the one accusation that frustrates me the most.

Okay the title. Are Channel 4 saying that we, the disabled are undateable? Put simply, no. Producers have themselves stated that the title is to challenge this common misconception within society. And, as viewers will know, during the opening sequence of each episode, the prefix clearly falls from the word dateables, thus indicating the contrary.

The show itself is proof that no one is undateable, an eye opener to many viewers who might have previously thought otherwise. For one reason or another, there remains a section of society that has never encountered anyone with a disability. I think The Undateables is great way to introduce this concept to such individuals. As James with Asperger’s says, the show is successfully removing stigma and raising awareness.

I do appreciate the criticism but for those who watch it with an open mind, I believe you will find it to be well meaning, sincere and sympathetic. Those involved have benefited, it has given others in similar circumstances the confidence to look for love, and it has made society realise that we all have basic human needs and desires, and the right to pursue them.

Who knows if Channel 4 will commission another series of the popular show. Based on viewing figures I’d guess they will, and if so I’ll be watching.

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