Twenty years eh? I honesty can’t believe it, but we have made it to our third decade.
ABLE2UK was launched on April 13 2001, for a few years the site was unloved, even abandoned – it just laid there in a lonely dark corner on the web.
But as time went by we started giving ABLE2UK some love and the site blossomed into what it is today, over the past 20 years we have staged 2 ABLE2UK concerts, been the first journalists in the world to be invited inside the London Olympic Stadium and had some of the biggest names in the world support our cause.
We now have over 5,000 pages, it would be impossible to revisit them all – we would be here until we turn 30! So, instead we have compiled, in order, the 20 most read stories from the past two decades.
For each story we have published a short piece on this special list below a link to the actual story, we have held back from making any edits or correcting mistakes from the original page. And yes, we have cringed on some of these additions.
So please, sit back and take a trip down memory lane as we look back at the first two decades of ABLE2UK in this very special article.
Thank you for all the love.
HOWARD THORPE – FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF ABLE2UK.
April 1 has always been a date we relish in the ABLE2UK office, for one day we can cause mischief by running an April Fools story. But in 2014 we really tricked you by saying ABBA were reforming for a one off gig in London’s Hyde Park. We even had a person working in the music industry, who will remain anonymous, reach out to us wanting to know more information. The band have vowed never to play again, although every now again rumours circle around that the four are getting back together…And we grabbed the opportunity to publish a fake story. On April 2 we came clean, the asterisk symbol on the headline indicated that yes, we were pulling your leg. Other April Fool jokes we have staged include saying MP Philip Davies was giving away cash to disabled people who emailed him and publishing Nadine Dorries MP’s number for disabled people interested in starring in a new BBC soap opera. We are truly sorry, well a bit sorry…Ok, to be honest, we have no regrets
What do Taylor Swift, Bono, David Beckham and Paula Radcliffe have in common? Yeah, they all have pots of money and incredibly famous but apart from that they all have some form of disability. To mark our new-look site in 2015 we published our first list of 50 famous faces with their disability. The article was also the first to include our pop-up glossary, hover over a disability term in red and a full description appears right before your eyes! If only personality disorder counted as a genuine medical condition – we could had doubled our list within minutes naming a string of MPs!
Whilst we were cooking up a popular article for diabetics we were still trying to get the hang of publishing images with correct dimensions. If you have no idea what the hell we are talking about check out that blurred pic of a salmon! Tiny Crab Starlets for starters, Smoked Haddock for main course (why the hell did we publish an image of a salmon?) and Panetone summer pudding, which to this day we still don’t really know what that is! Anyway, hopefully this was some use to a percentage of our readers who fancied themselves as the next Gordon Ramsey.
In January 2012 we shamed the Beeb after the channel’s lack of coverage behind campaigners calling for a reform to the DLA. On Monday 9 January thousands of people took to twitter using #spartcusreport. The hashtag supported a handmade campaign from a handful of disabled activists campaigning against cuts to the welfare system, also known as Responsible Reform.The media gave little coverage to the campaign until actor and writer Stephen Fry, who at the time was one of most popular people on social media with over 3 million followers, tweeted his support. Despite the efforts behind the project we were disappointed with the BBC refusing to mention the campaign on their mainstream news bulletins and asked our readers to email the channel’s chairman. Did our article make much difference? Probably not, but at least we had the satisfaction that we were sticking up for vulnerable people who deserved better.
The Hollywood movie Breathe gasped for oxygen when it was released in cinemas back in 2017. Telling the remarkable story of Robin Cavendish, a patient with polio confined to a hospital bed, the film followed his heroic fight to go against doctor orders and ask his professor friend, Teddy Hall, to invent a new wheelchair so he could live out his days at home with his family. Sadly Andrew Garfield’s role as Robin was quickly forgotten, Breathe flopped on its release, but to be honest it isn’t a bad film and tells a story which many of us should be aware of.
Abby and Brittany Hensel were born as con-joined sharing the same organs from the waist up. This was the premise for a fascinating 2013 BBC Three series which followed the girls as they went through higher education at Bethel University in Minnesota, paid a visit to London and explored the delights Chicago has to offer. The girls are still enjoying life today, neither are married although they are both looking for a partner and want to have their own children. Sounds to us the ideal content for a follow-up film.
Back in 2011 Channel 4 broadcast a controversial documentary about two members of the Royal Family who were hid from public view. Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, both girls were born with a learning disability and sent to Eastwood Hospital in Surrey, previously known as The Asylum for Idiots. When the film was shown HRH The Queen expressed her disappointment for the channel going ahead with the doc. To complicated matters more despite Nerissa passing away in 1986 Katherine was still alive when the programme aired, she died in 2014. It is also worth noting the Queen Mother was a patron of learning disability charity Mencap.
It seems hard to believe now, but when Channel 4 announced they were to air a new dating show for people with disabilities it caused a storm of controversy. First off was its title ‘The Undateables’, how such a ‘horrible name’ for a show be given the green light one person asked on social media, adding how offensive the series would be. Season one in 2012 consisted of just three episodes, and many believed it would be axed soon after. Of course they were completely wrong. The Undateables went on to be one of the channels most popular TV shows already stretching to 11 series and a nomination for the BAFTA Television Awards. It wasn’t just on our screens where The Undateables drummed up popularity, as you can see from this very list our articles over the years promoting the show have been extremely popular despite Dr Rachael Pickering raising concerns the first series left her "disturbed at being part of a society that might seek to view disabled people as a source of comedy.”
Thirty-six year old Mandy was the centre of a moving documentary aired on Channel 5 in 2011. In November 2009 she weighed in at 21 stone, but 6 stone consisted of just her feet. After numerous examinations medical staff eventually diagnosed Mandy (or Mary as we accidentally called her later on in the article) with a symptom similar to the one Joseph Merrick lived with, you may know him better as ‘The Elephant Man’. Mandy suffered a series of setbacks, from developing thrombosis to experiencing kidney failure leading to going under the knife for a painful amputation. Mandy is still living in Lancashire, her condition certainly has not affected her humour though and positive outlook on life, she refers to herself as a “part-time TV star”.
Another Channel 5 documentary which interested our readers was the one which resolved around Keith Martin who was introduced into the Guinness Book of Records for being Britain’s fattest man in 2013. The two-part programme captured the heart-breaking scenes of Keith having to lose weight before he could undergo a life-saving operation. Unable to come to terms with his mother’s death Keith binged on unhealthy meals, his erratic daily diet would start with 24 fried eggs for breakfast, by bedtime he would put on 10,000 calories a day. Eventually, in January 2013 after rigorous courses of physiotherapy and a sensible diet Keith lost 20 stone. He sadly died a year after in December 2014 from pneumonia just eight months after a successful operation removed three-quarters of his stomach.
This is so embarrassing, we made a spelling error in the title which, until now, nobody spotted, including ourselves! So we guess Number 51 could be the ABLE2UK editor, if they were remotely famous! Anyway, despite our dyslexic writer here’s a second list of well-known faces who could easily qualify for our target audience. Quite eye-popping when you consider Hitler was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease yet we failed to mention he had a ‘mood disorder’! Shakespeare lived with Asperger’s syndrome and Billy Connolly lived with ADD, before developing Parkinson’s a few years after this list was published. We were tempted to add Nadine Dorries MP had a personality disorder after she called an ABLE2UK employee with cerebral palsy a moron before blocking us on social media!
Channel 4’s The Undateables brought a heart-warming smile to all our faces, but it wasn’t just about seeing two singletons starting a new life together which raked in the viewers. Throughout the seasons there were memorable quotes which made us chuckle. Here are some of the best and yes, of course, we include the one from Richard when he finds out the potential love of his life lives in London.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were reluctant to give us an interview in 2012, maybe they were rushed off their feet, understaffed or it could be the case they had upset thousands of people with disabilities introducing Personal Independent Payment to replace the Disability Living Allowance and subjected vulnerable people to embarrassing, thoughtless provoking assessments run by Atos healthcare? We had to chase the government twice in order to gain this interview, but we are glad we did. At a time when Number 10 turned their back on people with disabilities this article proved to be one of our most popular stories over the past two decades.
7. KURT COBAIN
On 5 April 1994 we lost one of the world’s most prolific performers. Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana took his own life by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Twenty years on from this terrible loss we paid tribute to the incredible icon. In a special article we analysed Cobain’s suicide note with a handwriting expert who saw signs of depression and despair. We traced a history of Kurt’s battle with mental health, as a young teenager he would frequently inflict self-harm, his condition intensified after he made a horrific discovery one day at school. Kurt was never officially diagnosed with a mental illness, back in the eighties and nineties such conditions were rarely addressed which makes his death even harder to contemplate. If help and support had been widely available at the time maybe he would have still been here.
It did not take a Tory MP with half a brain cell to figure out replacing the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independent Payment would cause a commotion. When PIP was introduced on 10 June 2013 there was growing concern 6000,000 people with disabilities (morons to Nadine Dorries) could lose their benefits. The uproar was due to the unfair process which involved a claimant marked on their abilities through a ‘tick box’ system which left no room for detailed explanations about an individual’s case. Furthermore Fit-For-Work assessments saw cancer patients going through intensive treatments such as chemotherapy being forced back into their jobs or being made redundant. Still today, almost eight years since PIP was introduced we still hear horror stories how people with disabilities are being unfairly dismissed and losing their living allowance.
Yes we know the title on this article should read ‘overcome’ his stutter, but nobody raised it at the time so we just left it! Besides, what’s a small grammar error when you reveal one of the biggest stars in the world used to have a stammer? Ed was honoured at the American Institute for Stuttering’s Free Changing Lives Benefit Gala in 2015 where he spoke openly about his speech impediment growing up. He went on to reveal how Eminem helped him ‘overcome’ (we corrected ourselves this time!) his stutter. Want to know how Marshall Mathers became a speech therapist? Have a read of our story.
Blimey! We had no idea what we were in for when our editor decided to run this story. Stanbridge Earls was a school based in Hampshire for pupils with disabilities and behavioural needs as well non-disabled students. It was alleged some form of sexual abuse took place during the early 00’s leading not only to the dismissal of then headmaster Peter Trythall but also the school’s closure. ABLE2UK received numerous emails from former pupils challenging our content claiming the accusations were false and we took down the story. However, in 2015 former student Gareth Stephenson admitted to five sex offences and was convicted of a further six charges after trial. The site has now recently reopened as a care home.
Probably the most pointless article on this list, in 2014 we told you how to apply for The Undateables. With Channel 4 yet to confirm another season and the details listed in this story out of date, at least you can find out how successful applicants applied for the show and the results of an ABLE2UK survey which asked if you thought the programme singled out people with disabilities from society, you may be surprised by the result! We also published details of the final episode of the series which aired over seven years ago! You know what? Don’t even bother to revisit this particular page, it’s completely irrelevant now!
In 2012 ABLE2UK staged our first gig at the Camden Roundhouse, London. It was one of our biggest achievements we ever accomplished. Headlined by Friendly Fires and sets from Billy Bragg, Mystery Jets, Miles Kane, Zane Lowe and our hero Frank Turner – who was not only the first musician to sign up but has supported ABLE2UK ever since – it was an evening we will never forget. A second concert followed in 2016 with Hozier and Kodaline which received national media coverage, we even made it on to the BBC 6 O’clock News. More gigs will follow and we have something ‘huge’ planned for later this year to mark our 20th anniversary (watch this space) but for now here’s our founder Howard Thorpe explaining why these events are close to his heart.
Over 73,000 of you found this page interesting, we are glad to be of some service! To coincide with The Undateables we listed the dating sites featured in the show. There were a couple of reasons for this. 1. We thought it would make a pretty good article. 2. Our Facebook page started to become it’s own dating site with readers believing we were behind the Channel 4 show, unfortunately we had nothing to do with it. As this story was published quite a few years ago all the sites mentioned apart from The Outsiders Trust are no longer in operation so to round things off here’s a few current dating sites which specialise in finding soul mates for people with disabilities…Disability Match Genuine Disabled Singles Single Disabled
Thank you to everyone who has made the first 20 years of ABLE2UK such a success.
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