TV's 'Undateables' adverts raise storm

By Sarah Morrison

Poster for the British television programme 'The Undateables'. Photo / Supplied
Poster for the British television programme 'The Undateables'. Photo / Supplied

The show has not even aired in Britain yet, but the backlash has begun. Six people with facial disfigurements or physical or developmental disabilities are plastered across Channel 4's latest advert, which brands them The Undateables.

While critics attack the marketing of the new British prime-time reality TV show as "sensationalist", "harmful" and akin to exploitative Victorian "freak shows", Channel 4 argues that the campaign and title of its new series, to be aired next month, is a reflection of society's own prejudices.

The nine people featured looking for love on air have a range of conditions - from autism and Down syndrome to learning disabilities or physical impairments - but ultimately, the show's producers say, the three-part series explores the "universal desire to find love". Episodes begin with Cupid's arrow cutting through the "Un" of "Undateables".

For some, this is hard. Seventy per cent of Britons would not consider having sex with someone who has a physical disability, according to the most recent survey of the nation's opinions on sex.

Just over one in four would not rule out the possibility, while only 4 per cent have had sex with someone with a physical disability. The Undateables sets up disabled people with able-bodied matches and does not sugar-coat it: it can be difficult. Richard, a man with Asperger's, is dumped halfway through his first date when he snacks off his companion's plate.

Stars in the Sky, a dating agency set up by two women with learning disabilities solely for fellow-sufferers, has anywhere between 150 and 400 people on its books at any one time. They set up chaperoned dates for some of the contributors; Sam, a man on the show with Down syndrome, found a girlfriend. They are still dating.

Asked why the agency caters only for those with learning disabilities, its administrator, Lydia Jones, said: "It's difficult to have relationships where one person doesn't have a learning disability, because the power always shifts to the [non-disabled] person."

The disability charity Mencap worries that the packaging of The Undateables could "be seen to do more harm than good", portraying people with disabilities in an "unflattering" way. But all the participants in the show who spoke to the Independent on Sunday were happy with it.

Justin Coling, 39, has a facial disfigurement, and was seen as one of the most "challenging" dating assignments on the programme.

He says of the title: "Maybe it could have been a little kinder, a little more considerate. But this little controversial headline means people go to the website, write and talk about it.

"All those people slagging it off? You can bet your bottom dollar they'll be watching it."

He said: "The female population have never really shown any affection towards me and I've never really pushed it or pursued it. I'm not looking for sympathy - there have just been extra challenges."

- Independent

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