A SCOTS Paralympian has criticised producers of Channel 4 reality television programme The Undateables for asking her to help recruit disabled athletes to take part in the documentary series which follows people with “challenging conditions” as they attempt to find love.

Cyclist Hannah Dines, 24, who represented Team GB at the Rio Olympics last year, dismissed the approach, describing the show as “insulting and damaging” to people with disabilities. She also revealed several Team GB athletes had been asked to participate, but all declined.

Dines also accused Channel 4 of “segregation” because it broadcasts a similar reality programme called First Dates which has featured very few disabled people, while The Undateables only features those with disabilities.

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She has been backed by 22-year-old Ellie Simpson, who founded national charity CP Teens when she was 18-years-old, to help young people with a disability who are “socially isolated”. Simpson said the show has “a negative impact” on people she works with.

A seventh series of The Undateables will begin on Channel 4 tomorrow at 9pm and will feature an autistic man who “finds new people and situations stressful” and a partially-sighted man who “has been gradually losing his sight since birth and one day he will be completely blind, meaning his search for love is a race against the clock,” according to TV listings.

Previous episodes have included participants with Down's Syndrome, Tourette's Syndrome, facial disfigurement, and dwarfism.

Dines, who has cerebral palsy, is the author of an online blog about trike racing. She was contacted through her website by Kathryn Parker, an assistant producer at TV production company Betty, which makes The Undateables for Channel 4.

In her email Parker said: “As you reach out to so many people, I was hoping you might be able to help us spread the word that we are looking for people who want to find love and possibly take part in the new series.”

Signing off her email with a smiley face emoji Parker said: “If you are not familiar with the programme, it’s a documentary which follows people with various disabilities and conditions on their quest to find love.”

In her reply Dines said: “Please know that your show is insulting and damaging to people with disabilities. You've contacted a number of my teammates asking to be on the show. They all declined.”

Parker defended The Undateables in her reply, insisting it reflects “how some individuals view people with disabilities and conditions and how this can sometimes affect relationships” and “has gone a long way to breaking stereotypes”.

Dines claims the programme reinforces stereotypes which are “soul destroying” for people with a disability “especially young people”.

Ellie Simpson, founder of CP Teens, was also contacted through her charity by The Undateables and asked to take part. She said: “The concept that I had been labelled undateable because I have a disability is quite ridiculous. A massive assumption had also been made that I was single. It was almost as if they had identified me as disabled and therefore I must be single.

“If this show was titled The Undateables and it was about people of a certain race or ethnicity or age, everyone would be up in arms and quite rightly so. I really feel that shows with negative titles such as The Undateables could damage and have a negative impact on disabled young people.

“I am 22-years-old and the majority of my friends are disabled young people. Apart from our physical limitations, we are just your average young people who want exactly the same things out of life as other young people, so to negatively segregate us and to label us as undateable I think is wrong.

“We are often singled out throughout school as different by able-bodied peers who perhaps don't have the maturity and/or the education to realise that actually we are more similar to them than different, so why carry these perceptions on into adulthood on national, primetime television?”

Dines added: “The truth is that all people can be pretty undateable at times, disabled or not. If Channel 4 want to raise awareness put more disabled people in First Dates.”

The Sunday Herald contacted Parker at Betty, but she did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Channel 4 issued “a joint response from Channel 4 and the production company who make The Undateables, Betty, to be used in full in your pieces”.

She said: “The Undateables is a much-commended series that aims to challenge society’s pre-conceptions. When looking for contributors, the production team approach a wide number of individuals, experts and charities and nobody who is approached is assumed to be single or deemed to be ‘undateable’ but rather we hope they will help us spread the word reaching people who have enjoyed previous programmes and may like to take part.”

Below is a piece written by Paralympian Hannah Dines about her experience. 

'When I got an email from the team at Channel 4’s The Undateables I thought maybe they were short on dateables – the people they bring in for the so-called undateables. Reading further on I realised they wanted me to use my blog to recruit “undateable” people for their show.

This was an embarrassment, not to me, but to the society in which I live in 2017. Just because many of my readers may have disabilities it does not mean they are inherently undateable. I thought we had moved away from segregating groups of people, onscreen and off. Sadly this seems to be the whole premise of the show. The ‘Un’ falls off the title in the opening sequence but why is it there in the first place in reference to disability?

I have so many qualities that make me undateable and none of them are to do with my disability. I am proudly unapologetic for these things because, although there are many people who would find me undateable, there are also a lot who can’t help but fancy the cycling bibshorts off me. Yay for me!

People living with challenging conditions are often considered undateable – this series meets a few and follows their attempts to find love” – this is Channel 4’s description of the show. Certainly, cheap and insulting labels like ‘undateables’ and other presumptions mean that a lot of us do have it hard when we first start to date. For instance, we have to spend the time we could be working on our sexting game on having serious chats about disabled people’s misrepresentation in the media.

Not all media though. I don’t want to make assumptions about every member of a group. Take The Theory of Everything. This is how you title a film about a person with a physical disability. Not Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Gets You No Dates, because although that may be true for some people with MND, it wasn’t for Stephen (Hawking). He got hitched more times after he got the wheels than before – those dulcet, robotic tones taking them to the universe and back. And that’s just the real one. Imagine how much action Eddie Redmayne with MND would get (lots).

As a teenage girl who had barely seen the world except through a TV screen, I did think I was undateable. As soon as I had this horrifying realisation I went out to test it. I realised that the only person preoccupied by my disability was me and once I got over that, so did any potential partners.

Despite what Channel 4’s title might suggest, I got a date. Full disclosure: it was really a sleepover with a boy who was my age, during which I got caught in my A-cup bra by his dad, and then had to sit with his entire family at a nice restaurant wishing I was still an asexual tween! The things determined teenage girls put themselves through because of media pressure, disabled or not, is astounding.

Media pressure isn’t a good thing whether you’re young or old and what has worked for me is not relying on reality TV to educate people about how fun it is to date me but just to go out and show them. There is also self-acceptance, understanding other people, masochism in the form of road cycling and never watching reality TV unless it’s Great British Bake Off or about selecting NASA recruits, along with having confidence in my enthusiastic social skills. Oh, and staying in the GB tower at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, relationships abounding.

It made me realise that my most challenging condition, where dating was concerned, was being a professional athlete and even that can’t stop you. Flying off to training camps and competitions all year and devoting most of every day to heaving and sweating over my beloved trike and then quickly swearing off any other type of strenuous exercise, it was obvious I was betrothed to British Cycling. They really did get all my passion and commitment from age 20 to 23. Currently we are on break but I reckon we have an on-and-off relationship. We could always go on a couple’s holiday to Tokyo and work on our issues.

There is a hilariously robotic animation which my team-mates and I love of the Perils of Dating a Cyclist. In it, a girl discusses why she broke up with a cyclist because, amongst other things he wore a heart-rate monitor during sex so he didn’t exert himself too much. It’s funny because some people do take it that far.

On turning down the show, I asked if anyone on the production team had a physical disability and could I interview them. None do. However, to give them credit they do “work closely with various charities and organisations with expertise in the areas of disability or specific conditions for advice and guidance”.

But, in my experience of doctors and scientists and charity workers, they rarely know the ins and outs of their clients’ social lives.

A medical dictionary is not an instruction manual for love. Educational documentaries on rare disorders are one thing – and understanding the individual and how you fit into their lives is another. This show could be so much better if it just stopped pointing the finger at disabled people and expanded its range of undateables to include, well, everyone.

I think it would be great to see Kate Middleton just after she married the Duke of Cambridge saying how impossible it was to date him and how Prince Phillip took a bit of getting used to, but that she just loved him and that was all there was to it.

Or Sarah Hoy reliving her struggles as partner to an Olympic cyclist whilst being a lawyer but loving him anyway (*fictional quote* ‘yes he did wear his heart rate monitor in bed…’).

Or just picking well-off celebrities and their doting partners, laughing with pleasure over this adored, eccentric habit or the other. Melania and Donald Trump? You have got to agree there are many more things that make a person undateable than a wheelchair or autism… you could be an astrophysicist… oh wait, Stephen Hawking’s got me again. Presumptions don’t get you anywhere.

I, being the gossip I am, do know many people with very visible physical disabilities and very active dating lives or with beautiful spouses and families and I will not be the perpetrator of a modernised freakshow that instructs viewers otherwise.

If you feel the urge to watch some quality reality TV, don’t turn on The Undateables. Do watch the Perils of Dating a Cyclist on YouTube, or The Theory of Everything and then read The Rosie Project, or Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.'