Romance for Thornbury couple who thought disabilities meant they would never find love
As Channel 4 airs The Undateables – telling the story of those whose circumstances make the search for love difficult – David Clensy meets the Thornbury couple who met thanks to a dating club aimed at helping disabled people find romance
BOTH Sarah Batten and Steve Major know what it’s like to feel a little lonely – as disabled people from birth, they both grew up feeling reliant on carers to help them maintain any kind of social life, and the idea of finding love was always a distant dream.
But today, as I meet them in the lounge of Sarah’s Thornbury flat, it’s clear that Cupid finally found the pair. They smile at each other with all the affection of any romantic couple, but it’s fair to say that 51-year-old Steve and 41-year-old Sarah may once have thought they might never find this sort of happiness in their lives.
Sarah was born with severe cerebral palsy. A result of damage to the motor control centres of the developing brain, it was thought to have been caused because of a restricted oxygen supply at her birth.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Although her speech and movement are severely impaired, her mind is sharp.
“Your brain tells parts of your body to do something, but the messages just don’t get there,” she says, as she communicates through a “Lightwriter” – a computerised communications aid.
Similarly, Steve was born with his disability: arthrogryposis multiplex congenita – a rare congenital disorder, thought to be caused by a shortage of amniotic fluid in the womb.
“They think a lack of amniotic fluid means the unborn baby is unable to move around in the womb, and as a result the joints just don’t develop properly,” Steve explains.
“Like Sarah’s cerebral palsy, people have different levels of this condition, but unfortunately all my joints are severely affected. But it’s something I’ve always had, and it isn’t getting worse.”
Both Steve and Sarah have overcome their disabilities in many ways, but finding romance was always a major obstacle.
“It is very difficult,” Steve says. “As a disabled person, it’s not easy to get out of the house, without being reliant on a carer – so it’s very difficult to maintain a healthy social life.
“When you do get out and about, it can be hard to be integrated with able-bodied groups. You go along to evening classes, for example, and find that when everybody gets up and goes to the pub at the end of the class, often you don’t get invited – it’s normally a sort of well-meaning alienation; a sense that they don’t want to embarrass you or themselves by asking if you’d like to do something you might not be able to do.
“But of course, we’re just as capable of socialising in the bar, and it’s always nice to be asked. To not be included because of your disability is not only upsetting, it can really damage your self-confidence.”
The rise of the internet has been a boon for disabled people – allowing them to communicate with others in similar circumstances much more freely. But everybody wants to get out and socialise face-to-face.
“I know some disabled people have tried standard online dating sites,” Steve says. “And often it can start okay – at the stage where you’re just exchanging emails. But normally, even though the person has said that the disability won’t be an issue, when you meet face-to-face, it normally is.
“Many disabled people can get a lot from being able to socialise with other disabled people, who understand where they’re coming from – who understand what it’s like to feel alienated; to feel like a bit of an outsider from the rest of society because of your disability.”
Steve and Sarah met through an organisation called Outsiders. Founded in the pre-internet age, by Dr Tuppy Owens in 1979, its aim was to bring people of all disabilities together for a series of social events.
Starting at first in London, it has since spread across the country – and there is now a group in Bristol that meets each month.
“If it hadn’t been for Outsiders, Steve and I wouldn’t have met,” Sarah says. “I found it very difficult to find a partner, due to my speech impairment and shyness. Through the internet, I found Outsiders and became a member seven years ago.
“At that time my nearest Outsiders lunch was in Birmingham, which I attended a few times. It was at the Birmingham lunch that I first caught sight of Steve.”
But it took Steve and Sarah a little time to pluck up the courage to take the relationship beyond the level of a friendship.
“We got to know each other as friends,” Steve says. “When the Bristol group started, I began coming down here once a month so I could see more of Sarah, even though I lived in Daventry at the time.”
Sarah adds, with a smile: “I was the one who eventually plucked up the courage to suggest that perhaps we should be more than friends, and that was three years after we met.”
Last year Steve moved down to the West Country, and managed to find a flat in the wheelchair-friendly complex, just along the corridor from Sarah. The couple are now on the waiting list for a bungalow, so they can live together properly.
“We owe our happiness together to the Outsiders group,” Steve says. “And we’re keen to encourage more people to come along to our meetings. We do something different each month – whether it’s a few drinks in a pub, bowling, or a visit to the zoo.
“And it doesn’t have to be just about finding a partner. It’s a great social club, quite apart from the possibility of finding a romantic connection. We’ve made lots of great friends through the group.”
To find out more about Outsiders, visit the website at www.outsiders.org.uk