Tuesday (3 April) sees the start of a new series on Channel 4 called The Undateables or as I like to call it Would You Shag A Crip? It follows disabled people as they look for love. There's nothing like a good freak show to improve the ratings.
The advertising around this programme has been deliberately controversial. A series of billboards for The Undateables with pictures of six of the participants has the tagline "love is blind, disfigured, autistic".
Channel 4 would undoubtedly say that this was to help encourage debate and things but I doubt a teenage disabled person would cope very well with being told they were undateable. How do you even start to respond to the inevitable question - "Does that mean I'm undateable Mummy?"
It also surely suggests that disabled people are still a fair target to be stared and laughed at. Racism and homophobia are being tackled but it seems hate crimes against the disabled are still fair game. I've lost count of the times that I've been laughed at or abused while minding my own business in public recently. Why is this still acceptable? Groups of teenagers are the worst (in fact I'll avoid them if I can, even if it means taking the long way). This suggests that it's a respect issue. Advertising for programmes such as The Undateables hardly encourages this.
Of course, more people will see the billboards than watch the programme. So, even if the programme does display us disableds in a good light (which I doubt it will, it's better TV to show the bad side), the only thing most people will remember is the offensive advertising. And, if it's okay to be offensive to disabled people on billboards, then it's okay in the playground or in the pub too, right?
I bet that the people behind the advertising campaign don't have many disabled friends. For them, the ad campaign probably works well and they'll celebrate a job well done. Knowing that they won't have to look anyone in the eye and justify their angle.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for more representation of disabled people on TV. Just don't do it in the freak show format again and again.
Especially at a time when disabled people have been demonised by the government enough already. I really hope this show will be different from how it is being advertised. We've been here before though and it rarely turns out well.
Ironically Channel 4 are showing the Paralympics this summer. Obviously their message to the world is that disabled people are good at sport but not quite marriage material. A bit like Wayne Rooney then?
I may be undateable but it hasn't stopped me looking. Let's be honest, none of us want to be left on the shelf. And I don't mean the one in Tesco. I mean the one in the big dating supermarket of life. The one where the most desirable people have already been taken, the cheapest have been used and brought back for a refund and the rest of us just sit there like Tesco own brand red sauce - not as tasty and hardly ever picked up.
The dating game is so confusing these days, especially when you're disabled. I'm always open to new ways of meeting people though so when an advert for a disabled dating website flashed up on Facebook I thought I'd give it a go.
Its opening line was:
"Dating disabled is not something to be ashamed of. Date in confidence and find the person that is right for you."
It came as such a relief. I was glad it was nothing to be ashamed of and I'm glad that the website had told me so. There I was thinking that dating a disabled person was akin to murdering a baby. THANK YOU WEBSITE FOR PUTTING MY MIND AT REST!
Undeterred by this, I thought I'd try other disabled dating websites. The next one said:
"This is an international dating site, not only FOR disabled men and women but also for those not afraid to take on the responsibility FOR them. This is our possible contribution on the solution of the problems of the handicapped people."
Oh, I was grateful that there was such a website. Thank you website for your contribution on the solution of the problems of handicapped people. Let's just hope you never go into medicine!
The third and final site offered me the chance to meet "single men and women who share your challenge". My challenge? I wasn't aware I was playing the Crystal Maze! Maybe I can swap some crystals for a new voice? How about it, Richard?!
One thing is for sure, I'm still on the shelf, next to the Weetabix and above the Coco Pops, and I still haven't found my 'true love'. I'll see you down the red light district then. They have some great half price offers on amputees!