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June 2015

“How useful can I expect disabled dating sites to be?”

By Emily Yates, Lifestyle, Mik Scarlet, My story, The Love Lounge No Comments

Hello Emily,

First of all I think it’s a great campaign as disability and
relationships need to be open with increased awareness. I am 25 with mild
CP I enjoy skiing and going to the gym. I am slightly addicted to spin
classes! I have a small group on friends who all have girlfriends and
are slowly getting married. I have tried a number of speed dating
events including silent dating, blindfolded dating and online dating.
I have been honest about my disability in my profile, and have
received 0 messages I gave wrote about 50 I am not surprised by this.
I am wondering if you have any advice on where to meet women who would
be willing to overlook my slightly different walking gate? I am
finding it hard to accept people’s negative views and narrow
mindedness. I have been tempted to sign up to these dating agencies :
one has been used on the undateables on channel 4. Have you heard any
reviews of there usefulness? I have given up on online dating and the
use of tinder as they are so image focused. I look forward to hearing
from you.
Kind regards,

Hi Peter,
Apologies for the delay in replying – this one is tough as, unfortunately, we live in a very image conscious society ESPECIALLY when it comes to dating!!!
Great that you have so many interests and you’re getting yourself out there and doing what you love; that’s half of the battle!  Are you involved in any groups or classes that relate to your skiing or love of fitness? This is often a great way to meet people as there’s a mutual interest to focus on straight away.  What else are you interested in? Travel? Music? Volunteering? These are all great ways to meet people too!  I play wheelchair basketball, and made some amazing friends through that (and even had a couple of relationships….) Have you thought about joining a club near you?
I’m afraid I can’t comment on the usefulness of any particular dating sites, but I will say that you’re much more likely to be successful in your search for love if it is your personality that shines through first, rather than just the way you look/walk.
There’s been many ways that disabled people have played the game of online dating, many have even experimented to see how many responses they get when their disability isn’t photographed or mentioned on their profile at all.  I’m not suggesting you do this, but it is an option!
Maybe online dating just isn’t for you.  And that’s fine! But someone, somewhere will be for you, you’ve just got to keep trying (however tedious and lonely that can seem at times).

Let me know if you want to chat some more; I can even introduce you to your local Wheelchair Basketball team if you’re interested?
Hope this helps, and good luck!
Emily x


Claire Holland Head of Training

Claire’s Enhance the UK Update

By Business, Disability No Comments

I apologise that it may seem like I have fallen off the face of the earth as it’s been quite some time since I have written my last blog and you may be forgiven for thinking that I have been slacking but the truth is it has been an extremely busy time for Enhance the UK and I simply haven’t had time.

As it stands I am taking a well deserved rest from cleaning on my Sunday morning to share with you all the exciting things that are going on. Funnily enough writing a blog will win hands down over cleaning the bathroom any day of the week!

Well, where to start? We have delivered some great disability and communication training sessions recently at various venues. I am extremely proud of these sessions as I know they are already making such a difference. Staff at Queen Mary’s University reported an increased confidence in communicating with and awareness of barriers that students who have disabilities may face. This can only improve the experience that students have at the university. A newly opened hotel in Colchester are committed to being fully accessible and have realised that this will not happen with physical adjustments alone (although we were able to pick up on a few issues that their architect hadn’t been aware of and help them to put these right) but also with the attitude of staff.

We have helped an organisation to think about ways in which they can make literacy festivals accessible to disabled children and also how they can recruit disabled artists to take part. Being a book worm I am especially excited about this. We have also worked with volunteers and staff of the Big Lunch Extra Eden project to think about ways in which they can make their activities more accessible and am pleased to hear that they are already acting upon all the feedback we have offered. These are just a few of the organisations we have supported recently. Whilst I would like to wave a magic wand and change everyone’s perception of disability I am aware that this simply isn’t going to happen. I take comfort from the fact that we at Enhance the UK are changing perceptions one organisation at a time.

I have had the opportunity to return to a school that we have trained in before and deliver more disability awareness sessions to children between the ages of five and 11. I love these days, although to say they are hard work is an understatement. One little girl made me smile. When asked how I woke up in the morning , she responded sad – bless her. We had a long chat about the fact that I am not sad that I am deaf at all. These kind of conversations with children are essential to change their attitudes towards disabilities.

We launched our new one day introduction to BSL and Communication tactics course at the National Gallery a few weeks ago. All of the staff who attended were keen to practise their new found skills and I am sure will make Deaf members of the public feel very welcome and will be able to communicate with them much easier. The fantastic feedback we received from this can be seen here. This course is something that we are keen to encourage other organisations to send staff on if they are unable to commit to more intense training.

We have also been talking to companies about making their websites accessible to Deaf BSL users and are pleased to say that we have worked with one company to make their website accessible (details will follow once they have launched it) and are talking to several more. This is an area we feel very passionate about and are constantly working on.

We have filmed the first part of our Undressing Disability film to raise awareness of the importance of disabled people not being desexualised and having access to appropriate sexual health advice and sex education. We have more to do before it can be launched but I have every faith that the film is going to be fantastic! The day itself was really special. I have never had the pleasure to spend the day with such a lovely group of people. Many involved had not met each other before and yet the support they gave each other was amazing. Everyone managed to make me feel comfortable stripping off to my underwear and anyone who knows me will know that that is no mean feat. We also have some very exciting projects lined up that will be launched at the same time as the film as part of our Undressing Disability campaign. I literally can’t wait!

We have also been working closely with Scope on their End the Awkward Campaign and looking into developing partnerships with other organisations. All of this work has been conducted at the same time as the day to day running of the charity as well as spending lots of time looking for funding for some exciting projects that we have in the pipeline. All I can say on that matter at the moment is watch this space.

Wow, simply writing this blog has made me realise just how much we have managed to accomplish over the last few months. I have every faith that we will continue to change the perception of disability over the upcoming months as we at Enhance the UK are not the type of people to sit on our laurels. Now I really must get back to cleaning that bathroom, but I promise I won’t leave it as long for the next update!

Sarah Alexander in black and white wearing glasses

An Introduction to Sarah.

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

Where should I start? I’m Sarah, I’m a Scouser living in Northamptonshire with my boyfriend and a broken body.

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Fibromyalgia and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) – basically, I’m in a lot of pain. I dislocate, I’m knackered all the time and my heart races causing blackouts and dizzy/shaky spells – sounds marvellous doesn’t it?

There’s a lot more to it but I’m sure we can discuss that another time.

I heard about Enhance the UK on Twitter, they wanted stories from disabled people about their sex lives and relationships; I was totally up for that. I had a few men from hell that I could write about. I emailed Jenny as soon as I scoped out their website and had a look what they were all about.

I’m all about raising awareness; I work for the HMSA on the social media team and also run local group meetings for people with a hypermobility syndrome in the Northants area. I write fiction and a blog – I’m all about the words.

I’ll be appearing on Enhance’s blog every month so thought I’d share some random facts about me:

 I can’t usually do that serious thing. You know the deep and meaningful conversation? Yep, that and I don’t work well together; I end up making a really bad joke or staring at my phone.

 I have a Masters in English, *bows* thank you, thank you. My dissertation was on the commodification of the disabled body in the Victorian freak show. I was and still am very interested in that topic.

 As from my previous point – I like weird stuff.

 Crime fiction rocks my wheelchair. Crime novels, detective shows, crime thrillers, Criminal Minds, serial killer type things. I guess this leads back to my last two points.

I should probably branch out more.

 I have an unhealthy amount of makeup. I’ll say no more on this.

 Pyjamas are the way forward in life.

 Lists are good.

I’ll end it there, see you next time,

Sarah x

The author Holly Williams

Holly Williams on Disability and the Media

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

One of my favourite ways to chill out and relax in the evenings is to head online and listen to one of the many podcasts that pepper the internet. Fairly near the top of my list of ‘must catch’ shows is the one produced by the comedy website Cracked. They specialise in picking apart pop culture to find out why films, TV and music are a certain way and how that affects us as the audience. One of their latest episodes involved them turning their critical eye on the way Hollywood portrays certain groups, including the blind and physically disabled. Of course, we all know that characters with impairments are few and far between in the mass media and that there should be a lot more out there but it is quite interesting and enlightening to take a critical look at the characters that are out there.

Back when I was at college, I took A Level Media Studies, a large portion of which was learning about film making and the shorthand that directors use to tell an enjoyable story in a relatively short amount of time. Audiences need to be able to know who and what a character is, almost immediately, just by looking at them. So in the relatively rare cases of a film or series showing someone with, lets say, a visual impairment they are given recognisable indications to make this apparent – a white cane, a guide dog, dark glasses. But the fact is many blind people do not use these. This has lead, according to Cracked, to the bizarre phenomena of people meeting ‘real life’ blind people and thinking they’re ‘faking’ because they don’t ‘look’ blind.

It is a very strange situation to be in when people are questioning the authenticity of someone’s impairment, based on what they know about it from, not the actual person or even a medical expert but from what is shown to us in fiction. And yet it is something we all do, no matter how bright and accepting we are. We are bombarded by orchestrated images every day from the moment we enter the world, it’s impossible to ignore them. I’ve never met someone from Australia but if you ask me to describe a typical Aussie I might say no ­nonsense, friendly, out ­going surfer ­type who likes a beer. The weird thing is I know, as an intelligent person, that the description I gave is a stereotype; an unreal image I’ve built up because of what I’ve seen in the media but I can’t stop it colouring my expectations.

But where it gets really scary is when you start taking a look at the sort of plots and story­lines disabled characters feature in. Broadly, I think you can categorise these into two piles. Firstly, you get the ‘issue’ based programmes, where the disabled character is featured so that the able­ bodied protagonist can learn something about being a better person. A lot of such stories are really well-meaning, setting out to show that just because someone is disabled it doesn’t mean that they’re not a normal person, but a lot of the time because the programme is focused on the issue of ‘disability’ the whole exercise under­mines itself. The able­ bodied protagonist’s prejudices are just a challenge that they have to overcome. Once they’ve done that, grown and become a ‘better person,’ what further purpose does the disabled character serve? They are just an avatar for a challenge in the main story.

Speaking of avatars moves me on to the second problem writers and directors seem to have with disabled characters. The disturbing assumption that if you are disabled (particularly if you acquire your disability) your life is not worth living in that body. Films like Avatar, Million Dollar Baby, Inside I’m Dancing and Simon Birch all seem to believe that disabled people find life so unbearably hard that they would be better off dead (or, in the case of Avatar, an 8 foot tall blue cat/alien). Look, I’m the first to admit living with a physical impairment is an emotional struggle and bloody hard at times but should we really be showing death, and in a lot of cases suicide, as a viable, even noble option. The fact is the majority of disabled people live fulfilling, enjoyable lives.

A survey of people with acquired disabilities showed that after the initial stages of shock and grief their overall level of happiness returns to the same level it was before. So why does Hollywood love showing disability as a problem only answerable by death? Is it because movies and movie stars worship the cult of outward physical perfection? Maybe, but I have another theory. Movies, the best movies, are successful because they tap into our basest feelings and emotions; joy, fear, sadness. Most people have an unconscious fear of their own mortality; the fragility of this bag of flesh, bones and nerves that carries us around every day. Seeing disabled people is a reminder that the human body can stop working properly in a million ways. It makes us ask ‘how would I cope if I lose my sight/speech/use of my legs?’ Most people don’t know the answer to that question. Better to portray disabled people as a removed subsection of society, safe behind a barrier of wheelchairs, white sticks and social oddities than show them as ‘normal’ people. Or better yet, let their story­lines end in an honourable demise that solves all their problems.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Now and again, you turn on TV and see something that gives you hope. Case and point, the recent police drama Vera on ITV which featured a physically disabled actress as one of the officers assisting with the murder investigations. The character was shown as a competent member of the team, capable at her job but regularly badgered by the world ­weary detective, just like the rest of the team. Nothing about the role said ‘disability’ apart from the fact the actress in it just happened to have an impairment, showing that disabled characters can be included in a way that is neither patronising, tokenistic or pitying.