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The other day I was contacted through CP Teens UK by the Scottish national newspaper, The Herald. My friend, Paralympian & former RaceRunner Hannah Dines, had written an article on Channel 4's primetime TV show 'The Undateables'. The Herald asked for my opinion, both as a disabled individual and Founder of CP Teens UK, on the show - I was told that I was very welcome to agree with Hannah, who hates the whole concept, or equally I was very welcome to disagree with her and add a different viewpoint to the article.

If I'm being honest, rightly or wrongly, I had never really thought about my opinion on the show prior to The Herald contacting me. I suppose the only one thing I did have a strong opinion on at this point was the fact that I hated the name - 'The Undatables', I mean really?! To me, it always gave off connotations of a Disney film like Beauty and the Beast - you spend the whole film thinking "no one is ever going to date/fall in love with him!", but by the end of the film you realise that actually, the Beast is just a normal 'guy' who has the same needs as everyone else - to be loved. It turns out to be the greatest love story ever, and they all live happily ever after...

I read what Hannah had written and I started to think more carefully about 'The Undateables'. Hannah said that she had been contacted by the production team through her personal social media, as had her fellow Paralympic team mates, who had all declined the opportunity. This triggered my memory - I had too been contacted by the production team in the summer, not only on my Twitter account which in fairness is quite easily discoverable, but also on my personal Facebook account. This means that they would have had to spend a bit of time 'Facebooking' me and 'matching' my profiles up. I didn't respond to their message on Twitter because I wasn't interested, and more to the point I didn't want to be labelled as 'undatable' on national television! Nether the less, I was still approached on Facebook as well. I vividly remember telling my Mum at the time that I had been contacted by the show - she gave a one word response which was "charming"!

It was as if I had been identified as disabled, I had a bit of an interesting back story for TV with CP Teens and my sport, and I had no photos with a boy on my social media profiles - here we have a 'perfect' candidate to use on the show! I was also asked to put a 'recruitment' message out across CP Teens UK, i.e. all of you. I immediately decided I was in no way, shape or form going to do this. I may as well have said "so as a CP Teen/young person (18+), you are disabled, which probably means if you're currently single, you could be undateable. Please see below opportunity...". If any of you appeared on the show through your own means, although I am really uneasy with the whole concept, I would have been happy for you and I would have supported you. But, I was deeply uncomfortable with helping with the 'recruitment' process, especially under the name of CP Teens UK, and reinforcing feelings such as self-conciousess. Or, indeed, if it'd had never crossed your mind that you're 'undatable' (not that anyone is!) then planting that idea into your head.

I said to The Herald that if the show featured people of a certain age, or race, or ethnicity, with the title 'The Undateables' the whole nation would be in absolute uproar, and quite rightly so. So, why is disability any different? I am all for changing perceptions, in fact I love changing perceptions, and usually it is what Channel 4 does best - you only have to look back to London 2012 and spinoffs such as 'The Last Leg', as well as their main documentary sponsors boasting "Changing perceptions with documentaries on 4" at every ad break. But, how on earth are perceptions being changed with a programme title like 'The Undateables'? Surely this reinforces perceptions, not change them?

I do think there is probably a gap for a disability dating show - the fact that it is a show purely for disabled people dating doesn't actually offend me. It is how it is done, how it's portrayed and without sounding like a broken record, the name 'The Undateables'. I also think this current series has been clumsily placed in our evening TV schedule - Channel 4's popular 'First Dates' follows straight on every week after 'The Undateables'. Talk about juxtaposition at its finest. Here is all the disabled people 9-10pm and everyone else 10-11pm. I could even live with the juxtaposition if 'The Undateables' was called 'First Dates' and followed the same format, i.e. 2 people meet in a restaurant and have a meal together - 2 hours of 'First Dates' with the first hour being people with disabilities from your champion disability broadcaster? Yeah, okay then, I feel that is acceptable.

What do you think about the show? Do you agree or disagree with Hannah and myself? Join the conversation in the CP Teens Chat Group.

It's that time of year where Universities up and down the country are starting back, and many of you have started at Uni this month! Guest Blogger, Izzy, has just moved to Uni. Here is her blog, thanks Izzy!...

Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term for a condition which spans a very very wide spectrum. While some people with the condition are unable to walk or talk or even feed themselves, others are able to walk unaided despite looking a little awkward while doing so. I am thankful every day that I fall into the latter category.

To be specific, I am Isabel Pickles, I am 18 years old and I have Mild Spastic Diplegia. However, do not be fooled, having a milder form of Cerebral Palsy, while a good thing, is still no easy task, and often I face challenges that those in a wheelchair may never quite understand.

For instance, at the age of 14 I vividly remember having to explain that I had a disability to my drama teacher after he stumbled across my ankle splints in the cloakroom. He had no idea prior to that day, despite having taught me for about 6 months. This is something I should be happy about right? Yay! No-one can tell I’m disabled! While this can be a blessing at points, it can be incredibly, incredibly awkward divulging information about a disability that really isn’t too obvious to people. People become sceptics because they can’t SEE a wheelchair, I don’t “look disabled.” It is for this reason that I can count the people I have said the words “Cerebral Palsy” to on one hand. The average person doesn’t even know what that phrase means, lets be honest.

But, I really should be more open about my disability. Not being able to talk openly and comfortably to people about my CP has caused me great embarrassment in mainstream education over the years. To give you an example, on a school trip age 11 I received a piggy back off my teacher instead of running along the coast with my friends. At the age of 13 I fell into a brook on another school trip because I refused the help of my teachers to help me balance like everyone else. By the age of 14, I’d faced the horrific question: “what’s the deal with your legs?,” several times over, to which my normal reaction was to say sheepishly “oh, its nothing.” At the age of 15, my classmate wrote about me on Twitter, mocking me, after I fell over three times in an hour in my history class. These are all trivial little things, I am aware. They are part and parcel of living with CP. And I understand these silly little challenges are nothing compared to some people with the condition. But there is something really, really painful about someone looking at you with utter pity, and wondering. They know that something isn’t quite “right,” but they can’t quite put their finger on it.

Perhaps the WORST thing about having a disability, mild or not, is what I would like to call the “inspiring issue”, something which everyone with a disability will be able to relate to. Just a few months ago, I was sat with a careers advisor, talking about my options after my A levels, when she hit me with, “wow, you really are an inspiration, aren’t you?” You see, I was able to apply for several university scholarships because of my disability, (certainly a perk, along with the infamous blue badge and theme park concessions of course), and for this particular career advisor, this warranted me to be described as an “inspiration.” I cannot stress enough how my disability does NOT make me inspiring. However, I’d like to think I have inspired others to speak up about disability over the last 18 years, and be comfortable with the hand they’ve been dealt in life.

You see, as a result of my CP, I’ve done so many great things and met so many great people. I’ve done rock climbing; I’ve been a part of the Kielder Challenge (a national competition for able bodied and disabled children) and I’ve taken part in the Step Into Sport Camp ran by the Youth Sport Trust. This is just a few of the things I’ve done as a direct result of my disability, the list is endless.

I would say above all else, the best thing to have happened as a direct link of my CP is having met fellow Cerebral Palsian Chris Badger at age 13. I was a shy and self-conscious kid, and he showed me that disability is irrelevant, going on to win the Sky Sports Living for Sport Student of the Year Award.

Now, going to University, I am left wondering whether all the new people I meet will understand that disability is truly irrelevant, and I’m not so sure they will think like that. After all, society is complicated. I hope, after reading this, the community at cpteensuk can relate to my ramblings and understand that disability is NOT the whole story.

Peace out


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