As Valentine's Day approaches most people are thinking about love and relationships. Whether you are in a relationship and are trying to plan that special romantic evening, or you are single, seeing the day as highlighting your lack of love or another excuse to go out on the pull, it's one of those days that brings the subject of sex, love and the whole minefield of relationships to the forefront of the minds of almost the whole country. Cleverly the charity Scope saw the big day as an opportunity to release some truly shocking statistics with the headline "Just 1 in 20 Brits has ever dated a disabled person".
Yes, only 5% of the people polled have asked out, or been on a date with a disabled person! The research, carried out by Opinium Research, asked 2001 UK adults aged 18+ about their experiences interacting with disabled people and found some scary answers. 67% said they felt awkward around disabled people, and might avoid talking to them. 76% have never invited a disabled person to a social occasion and 16% have never invited a disabled person to their house. This research was carried out as part of Scope's campaign "End The Awkward", which is celebrating Valentine's Day with the release of a series of lighthearted e-cards to be sent to your beau and a video highlighting some the more awkward moments experienced by some well known disabled people, such as American Horror Story star Mat Fraser and presenter Sophie Morgan
I found the statistics really shocking, but mostly as they seem to be totally opposite to my own experience. I was born disabled, and became a wheelchair user at the age of fifteen, yet I can honestly say I have never had any trouble making friends, being invited to social situations or finding love. However, that's not to say I haven't had my fair share of awkward moments when it comes to the dating game.
One experience that still makes me cringe happened just after I had my spinal injury, when I was about seventeen. I was out in a small disco in my home town of Luton, in my best New Romantic finery, chatting to a potential date at the bar. At the time I was still desperately trying to walk, so was stood up with leg braces on both legs and the aid of crutches making me unsteady on my feet. I turned to order us drinks and the young lady I was chatting up turned back to her friends, maybe to give that "I'm in" wink. I then felt myself loosing my balance and suddenly I slid down the bar, ending up in a heap on the floor. At this point my potential new girlfriend turned to talk to me again and found I had disappeared. I can still remember her face as she scanned the scene and as her eyes alighted on my crumpled, overly made up visage, she asked "what are you doing down there?". Imagine the bar scene from "Only Fools and Horses" where Del tries to play it cool, before falling like a felled tree. I also had to ask to be helped up by my potential new love, who almost immediately turned and walked away with her mates all laughing. At the time I felt mortified, but it led me to start thinking about such moments in a different way. Basically would I have wanted to be with the kind of person who laughed at someone who fell over? Surely it demonstrated that we would never have worked as a couple? Moments like this one, and there were many more in the same vein, led me to consider that my disability might be a great way of separating the wheat from the chaff, in finding love, making friends and even gaining employment. So much so that it allowed me to begin to really love my impairment and see it as a real benefit. I now work as an advice columnist for the charity Enhance The UK, and have an online help vlog where I give out advice on dating, sex and body confidence where I advise people to try to turn a negative into a positive.
Another killer moment in the awkward stakes is when people stroll up and ask if I can still "do it"? It has been a regular part of my life ever since I joined the wheelie club, and it never ceases to amaze me that people feel they can ask such a personal question to someone they don't know. Oh yes, it's not people I know who ask this but total strangers, whether I am alone or with someone. The weirdest of this kind of awkward moment occurred when I was out clubbing with my wife. A woman came up to Diane and told her what an amazing person she was for "giving up so much". My wife and I stared at each other, looked to our new friend and laughed ourselves silly. It was obvious what she meant my wife had given up on. After our laughing subsided we politely explained that we were very happy in that department. I do wonder why so many non-disabled people are fixated on disabled people's bits, especially as there is so much more to sex than penetration. But that's another article...
It's true that many people do feel awkward around disabled people, but only as they don't know any. We aren't really visible in the media and our society is still very inaccessible. I don't want armies of people rushing out to find a disabled mate, but if we do meet in the street try to remember I am not different from you. Anyone can become disabled, and if you do join our ranks you don't change who you are. Don't feel awkward, or at least no more awkward that we all do whenever we meet new people!
E-Card Image and Awkward Video by Permission of Scope