Dating with a disability has been showcased in several primetime television and Netflix series in recent years. And to be honest, I haven’t been that keen on the private love lives of people with disabilities being in the spotlight. Some programmes have been ok, but others felt misleading and not genuine.
I wanted to see a show that presented natural, authentic perspectives of disabled people entering the search for love and forming relationships on multiple levels, not just romantically.
As a community, disabled people have made considerable strides in managing how we are portrayed in media. Sure, it’s essential for disabled people to be seen dating and to show the public that we all need love no matter who we are. But I felt a need for some ground rules that would stop the exploitation of our private lives.
Enter ‘Down For Love’ - a dating series that follows eight people living with Down Syndrome on their quest for romance. We see their experiences as they take potential suitors on dream dates and learn the ins and outs of dating. It’s produced at my workplace - Attitude. At first glimpse, I wasn’t sure what to think.
Attitude and TVNZ created the series in consultation with the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association. I was pleased to hear that. Even so, I watched critically. From my experience, having a disability is a huge game-changer, it’s tough. My experiences have included being ghosted because of my disability. I have not been confident to own my disability on dating apps, thinking I’m not in some girl’s league sometimes. But the show changed my perspective of what dating is and the importance of trying to find love.
So I sat down and openly quizzed the series producer, Robyn Paterson (through the lens of a disabled person) to learn more about the making of the series and her favourite moments from the five episodes. I was pleased when she volunteered that her main motivation for getting involved was wanting to increase representation on screen of people living with Down syndrome.
When the Attitude team developed the idea, the first call was to the head of the New Zealand Down syndrome Association to find out what they felt about the idea, how families felt about it, and to ask them to be involved as consultants. Patterson said she was super grateful for their insights and feedback along the way.
Throughout production Paterson's job has been to guide the look and feel and bring the right people on board to help shape the show into what you see today. But she also saw her role as a ‘Duty of care’ looking after the best interests of the couples that were filmed.
I asked her what her best moments were in the production process of “Down For Love’? Paterson replied:
“The joy of production throughout this show has been getting to know our participants and their families and seeing their enjoyment of their experiences. Of course, when relationships work out, this is always a highlight for us.”
At Attitude, there is a drive to ensure people are telling their own stories and that they are surrounded by support. Patterson said, “ the participants had the agency to talk about their own feelings and express their own ideas”.
With the end of season one - I have seen a huge positive response to the show online through comments and media outlets. When I asked Paterson if she was surprised by the reactions of the public, she replied that she was delighted with the response to the show and the numbers watching and also the amazing feedback seen and heard. She did say that what was even more important was seeing the comments within the Down syndrome and wider disability community.
Patterson agrees that the show is very important and is intended to be a key opportunity for so many people living with Down syndrome in the community to see themselves and their lives represented positively on-screen. The hope is that this will lead to a significant change in perception around the life goals of anyone who lives with Down Syndrome, Patterson explains.
“My hope is that it also brings about greater understanding about people living with Down syndrome - including the rich diversity within the community and that those living with an intellectual disability have the same desires for and rights to relationships as anyone else”.
Down for Love was heart-warming, and inspired me to mingle more, to trust in being my authentic self. It gave me a whole new perspective…I need to be confident to put myself out there… for the world to see. The show made me believe dreams come true in finding love. The dating process is hard and it will take me time but I have learned from the show that everyone deserves to be happy - so why not me.
I enjoyed watching the series and encourage others to watch it. You can’t help but laugh at the funny parts and feel real emotion other times. My favourite moments include Josh’s dancing, Carlos's romantic magical poems, and the interactions between the couples who are bravely doing this for the first time.
We need more feel-good shows that bring awareness and understanding about how others live their lives. I’ll keep you posted because Attitude is cooking up a new series…