media release /// UK Disabled People’s Council & European Disability Forum4 April 2012 /// The UK Disabled People’s Council and the European Disability Forum explain why the TV series ‘The Undateables’ on UK Channel 4 is inappropriate. “Such an unworthy show is not improving the portrayal of 80 million European citizens with disabilities in the European media: ‘The Undateables’ is unwatcheable: Channel 4 is just wrong and poses a threat to the rights protected under the UN Convention,” stressed EDF President Yannis Vardakastanis.
On the 3rd of April, the British TV company Channel 4 has started to broadcast a series called ‘The Undateables’. This TV reality portrays six persons with disabilities in their quest for love. This title looks bad on paper but even worse when put on billboards across the UK, where towering images of people with disfigurement or wheelchair users with the title ‘Undateable’ emblazoned next to them. If ‘The Undateables’ seems an offensive title for a show, then that is probably the marketing aim for a TV channel in the quest for audience. Above a patronising voiceover, viewers are told from the opening that they're about to see a group of “extraordinary singletons" when in fact we see the opposite: six single people who happen to be disabled.
For the organisations of persons with disabilities in the UK and in Europe, this series and the way it is being marketed raise a crucial question of dignity and representation. On the whole, the media have a very important role to play in the relationship between disabled and non-disabled people. In many European countries, despite majors efforts in favour of integration, or inclusion, disabled people continue to be invisible from the society and from the media. Beside that, when they are finally on air like yesterday evening on Channel 4, disabled people are the subjects of uncomfortable voyeurism.
Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC Chief Executive said: “Disabled people, as all other citizens, want to be visible in the media. However, a programme playing on creating a sensation and portraying us as extraordinary singletons desperate to seduce, is harmful to our overall image and runs the risks of increasing prejudice.”
The UK ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol in 2009. The Convention is a binding international treaty that applies to all areas of life and aims to promote the full realisation of all human rights of disabled people.
“The Convention being integral of the domestic legal order, UK government must take action to improve society’s awareness of disabled people, and encourage media to portray disabled people in a dignified and respectful manner. It can do so by organising public awareness campaigns, but shouldn’t shun from a more forceful action, such as legal action”, Mr Dhani concluded. Bound by its international obligations, the UK must stand on guard of inherent dignity of persons with disabilities and take immediate and effective measures to protect us against discrimination by private parties, including Channel 4.
In addition, it is important to quote a common vision established in the Madrid Declaration adopted at the European Congress on Disability in 2002:
“The Media should create and strengthen partnerships with associations of people with disabilities, in order to improve the portrayal of disabled people in mass media. More information on disabled people should be included in the media in recognition of the existence of human diversity. When referring to disability issues, the media should avoid any patronising or humiliating approaches but focus instead on the barriers disabled people face and the positive contribution to society disabled people can make once these barriers have been overcome.”
The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) is the national umbrella organisation of disabled people, run and controlled by, and representing the voices of disabled people in the UK. Along with our members, we believe in, and strive for, the full inclusion of disabled people in society and the workplace. For us, inclusion is a human rights and civil liberties issue that must be effectively tackled. By working in partnership with disabled people’s organisations, the government and other bodies, we believe that equality can be achieved. Our vision is of a world where disabled adults and children can enjoy their full human rights and civil liberties; a world where disabled people can fulfill their life ambitions without discrimination, isolation and institutionalisation.
The European Disability Forum (EDF) is the European umbrella organisation representing the interests of 80 million persons with disabilities in Europe. The mission of EDF is to ensure disabled people full access to fundamental and human rights through their active involvement in policy development and implementation in Europe. EDF is a member of the Social Platform and works closely to the European institutions, the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
photo: Billboard of 'The Undateables' in the UK