Disabled Man And Able-Bodied Girlfriend Are Breaking Down Stigmas Around Disability

Joshua RogersJoshua Rogers in News, World
Published 10.06.20

A disabled man and his able-bodied girlfriend are attempting to break down stigmas associated with disabilities by documenting their relationship in a series of YouTube videos.

Shane Burcaw, 26, was born with neuromuscular disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and fell in love with Hannah Aylward, 25, three years ago after Hannah watched a documentary about Shane’s life and decided to reach out to him.

However, the couple’s romance has been called “abnormal” and “disgusting” by trolls, with others often assuming Hannah is Shane’s paid caregiver or relative.

To educate others about their lives together, Aylward and Burcaw created a YouTube channel where they explain the realities of an inter-abled relationship – and have since gained more than 127,000 followers.

“Our goal is to normalise disability and relationships like ours,” Burcaw explained in one of the videos, while Aylward responded to one question about her caretaker duties: “I have a fairly normal life.”

The pair first met after a number of initial text messages and video calls, with Hannah, who studies in college in Minnesota, eventually visiting Shane in Pennsylvania.

They spent four days together and immediately knew they wanted to make it work. Following a long distance relationship, Shane and Hannah moved into a flat in Minnesota together in 2018 so Hannah was able to continue her degree.

Speaking to the Daily Mail about their relationship, Shane said:

“There are a variety of damaging stigmas surrounding disability, but one of the most pervasive ideas is that people with a disability are incapable or unworthy of romantic relationships.

“When Hannah and I are out in public together, strangers routinely assume that we are siblings, or that she is my paid caregiver, or even worse, my mum.”

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What Made Me Smile This Week: . Monday 12/10: My brother left this morning to return to Pennsylvania, which was a bummer, but I’m grateful for the past four days that I got to spend with him. In addition to blowing my nose a million times and coughing up copious amounts of phlegm with his assistance, we also ate lots of delicious food, watched a lot of football, and played a bunch of video games. Hanging out like we used to do more often in our younger years made me smile. . Tuesday 12/11: Hannah’s dad has trademarked his method for helping me blow my nose. He calls it “milking the cow” and it works like a charm. Having Hannah’s parents to help me fight off the remnants of this stupid illness makes me smile. . Wednesday 12/12: Today was Hannah’s 23rd birthday! She’s enjoying her final day of sunny paradise with her swim team in Florida, but we found time for a nice, long birthday phone call tonight. Hearing her voice, and knowing that less than 24 hours separate us from being back in each other’s arms makes me smile. Happy birthday, darling! . Thursday 12/13: SHE IS HOME. I AM SMILING. . Friday 12/14: Homemade chicken fingers made me smile tonight. I have a weird thing for food that is breaded. . Saturday 12/15: Hundreds of thousands of people are checking out the interview that Hannah and I did with Special Books by Special Kids on YouTube, and as a result, there has been a huge outpouring of support for our channel. Reading all of your beautiful comments in support of the idea that people with disabilities are capable and worthy of romantic love makes me smile. . Sunday 12/16: We put up our Christmas tree today! Getting into the holiday spirit makes me smile. . What made you smile this week?

A post shared by Shane Burcaw (@shaneburcaw) on

Although the couple still receive questions and criticism about their relationship from strangers, a significant amount of the feedback to their videos and Instagram has been positive.

“Your relationship inspires me,” one person commented on a photo.

“To me, mental connection and personality are so important, It really seems like you two connect on the deepest level. Thank you for giving me hope!”

Another person said: “I also have SMA and seeing that an actual relationship is possible warms my heart.”

The couple recently answered fans’ questions about how they manage intimacy in their interabled relationship in their latest video.

In the Q&A, Shane quipped his private parts were not proportionate to his small body, and made his beloved burst with laughed as he assured viewers ‘everything down there’ works ‘wonderfully.’

Obviously there’s going to be some people who are critical about them in some way, shape or form, but if they’re using their relationship to break down stigmas around inter-abled relationships, and maintain a good sense of humour too, good for them. 

Images via Instagram/YouTube/Facebook