Molly Mattingly, Head of Learning Disability Programmes:
"Any regular Channel 4 viewers will have found it hard to miss the new tv series currently airing called ‘The Undateable’s’. Following the love lives of several British singletons, this series has caused controversy over its title alone. Although the participants were informed of the title before it was aired, many viewers feel it is sensationalist and goes against the hard work of many who campaign for people with learning disabilities (or other disabilities) to be seen as the same as everyone else. Branding people as ‘undateable’ in the title, even if this is not the message the show wants to portray, will stick in peoples’ minds and further reinforce negative attitudes towards people with disabilities.
However, some may argue that getting a prime time show which features people who don’t have the typical model looks we are used to seeing on our screens, and instead, shows real people with disabilities leading full and independent lives is enough of a pay-off to warrant the title. How many people would have tuned in if the title had been phrased in a softer and more palatable way? Isn’t the main point that this programme is showing a side to society that is rarely given such media coverage, no matter what got them to start watching in the first place?
Both of these arguments are valid. The title of the programme is sensationalist (Channel 4 want people to watch it after all) and probably unnecessarily so. Although the people in the series are shown in a positive and respectful manner, it is still reinforcing associations of people with disabilities as being ‘different’, not capable of finding meaningful relationships nor enjoying the same social life as everyone else without our intervention.
Despite this, the programme does show people with learning disabilities living independently. Shane, who has a learning disability and Richard, who has Asperger syndrome, both show the potential that people with learning disabilities or autistic spectrum disorders have in leading fulfilling lives. How often do you get to see people with learning disabilities on television without it being in the wake of scandals such as Winterbourne View as seen on BBC’s Panorama.
The main point of the programme should be that this is the story of several people who want to find love. This is a universal struggle that every member of society can identify with, whether you are disabled or not. Lack of confidence, not connecting with the community and meeting potential partners through natural networks of work and friends is a universal issue as proved by the surge in popularity of dating services in the UK over the last few years. The types of disability featured in the programme may compound the difficulties faced in finding a partner but they are not the only reason for their situation. Hopefully, in the future we will live in a society which will not need to sensationalise those with disabilities in order to make people interested in their stories. "
13 April 2012