Review: The Unbreakables: Life and Love on Disability Campus

30 July 2015

Natasha Valladaresby Natasha Valladares

A three-part series following the students at National Star College in Cheltenham, The Unbreakables: Life and Love on Disability Campus is part of BBC Three’s Defying the Label season on disability airing this month. The first episode aired earlier this evening.

The most powerful thing about The Unbreakables was its portrayal of real disabled students learning about themselves the same way all students do when they leave home. The students are not typecast to be figures of inspiration or sympathy. The film doesn’t edit out the hard or light-hearted moments. And the stories did not dramatise or minimise disability.

The opening scenes didn’t bode well. With crass comments about sex it seemed as if the show was out to shock us.

Instead, it presented an honest and informative depiction of the lives of six students with complex disabilities, who like most teenagers, do joke about sex. I found myself laughing with the students, and cried when a final year student, and his roommate were sharing how they walked in their dreams. I am sure, like myself, many disabled people dream of alternative realities.

Equally, I enjoyed students being open and honest about their relationship to disability, which was not always politically correct. When Beth, a student with cerebral palsy, speaks about her boyfriend Ed, another student who has a heart condition and learning disability, she says how glad she is that he is not in a wheelchair like her, or he wouldn’t be able to help her do the things she can’t. These are sorts of things we normally pretend not to think, and are certainly not said aloud. Yet everybody – disabled or not – does worry about practicalities, and it’s important to create a conversation that doesn’t shy away from that.

By the end, I felt these students were truly themselves, and their concerns were real and not scripted. As Xenon, the same student who dreamed of walking, lay recovering in hospital from a hip replacement, he drowsily asked if the scene would be used. When the filmmaker asked if that’s what he wanted, Xenon responded ‘I’d like them to see the challenges that I’ve faced, I’d like them to see what I’ve gone through in my life. And hopefully when they see that, they’ll understand a little, they’ll understand a bit more about disabled people.'

Natasha Valladares is a policy and campaigns assistant at Leonard Cheshire Disability, through our Change100 scheme.

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