Why Buzzfeed’s Dating With Cerebral Palsy Video Is Kinda' Messed Up

Feb 22, 2021

Recently, Buzzfeed released a video titled Dating With Cerebral Palsy where the sister of a man with Cerebral Palsy helps him set up an online dating profile and ultimately, go on a virtual date.

Here’s the video:

It starts off with Sheena (the non-disabled sibling) asking if anyone ever experienced the hyper‐specific scenario of being asked by their disabled sibling to find them a date. She then goes on to talk about her brother Sean, his diagnosis, and how having Cerebral Palsy makes things more difficult for him, including dating.

Sheena then says:

quote:

So, I decided, I’m gonna sit down and talk to him about dating, and then I’m gonna find him a date.

end quote

Yikes. This completely changes the narrative of the video. It goes from an opportunity to hear directly from someone with a disability about how difficult dating and romance can be, to the story of an able‐bodied person deciding to find a date for someone with a disability.

In the next scene, somber guitar music plays as Sheena sits down with Sean and talks about his previous attempts at dating and romance. Sean talks about how he feels potential partners overlook him because of his disability and how he wishes people were more open minded.

Sheena asks what kinds of things he would want to do if he found a girlfriend and, through a series of awkward jump cuts, Sean lists off a few more adventurous date ideas. Personally, I choose to believe that Sean said “hand stuff” instead of “hang gliding” and that’s why there’s so many hard edits (I’m joking, of course).

We cut to Sheena helping Sean set up an online dating profile, after which she once again centers the narrative on herself:

quote:

I think I have enough information to scour the web and see if I can find a lovely lady for you to go on a virtual date with.

end quote

This is quickly followed up with a shot of Sheena sitting in a separate room without Sean as she talks about how (with sad piano music in the background) Sean has been wanting a girlfriend “for ages” and how he’s talked about wanting to go on dates and meet someone special. Now, I’m not saying that any of that is untrue. What I am saying is that I should have heard it from Sean. Why wasn’t Sean included in this part of the video? Why can’t we hear about the difficulties of dating while disabled from the person most affected by them? If Sean really didn’t feel comfortable talking about that side of himself to strangers on camera, I doubt he would be comfortable with his sister talking about it on camera for him. And when she does talk about Sean’s desire for romance, her tone comes across as infantilizing.

Fast‐forward a bit and we meet Melissa, Sean’s date who lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We watch the first few seconds of Sean and Melissa on a video call before, once again, cutting to Sheena talking about Sean, without him present.

Sheena says that Melissa, her brother’s date, seems:

quote: very high‐functioning and maybe even neurotypical, with just some physical disabilities. end quote

Holy shit. Not only did she just try to diagnose her brother’s date, but she did it in the most insulting way possible. If someone told my wife that I seemed very high‐functioning and maybe even neurotypical, with just some physical disabilities, there would be a body to hide. Honestly, I’m not that surprised. When it comes to ableism, the most potent forms often come from one’s own family and Sheena really elevates the art form here by sharing her terrible takes on a stranger’s medical history with Buzzfeed’s 20 million subscribers. Bravo.

She then goes on to give this weirdly detailed explanation of Cerebral Palsy, the range of symptoms it can have and exactly how her brother’s diagnosis affects his ability to live independently. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t throw in how good his bowel and bladder control is for good measure. Again, if we’re going to talk about how difficult it is to date with a disability, I want to hear about it from someone who is actually disabled!

The video wraps up with Sean saying that the date went really well, but that they (Melissa and Sean) decided to just be friends since Melissa lives so far away from him and that would make dating difficult. First off: Sean, bud, you knew where she lived to begin with. She says so right in her intro video. Second, maybe it wasn’t the distance that turned her off but the fact that your sister decided to sit down and tell tens of millions of people how “functional” she seemed like some kind of ableist David Attenborough.

In the end, this whole thing was a hot mess of garbage designed to give non‐disabled folks warm fuzzies while not really addressing any of the issues that make dating with a disability so difficult. This video goes out of its way literally exclude disabled people from talking about not only their own emotional needs, but their own bodies while keeping the overall narrative centered on able‐bodied people.

It didn’t need to be this bad. Buzzfeed has done other pieces on dating and disability before that do an amazing job of keeping the disabled person, not just their disability, at the center of the story.