Disabled Man and Able-Bodied Girlfriend Document Relationship to Show Just How Ordinary It Is
He has been in a wheelchair since he was 2. She is able-bodied. He is the light of her life.
He has been in a wheelchair since he was 2 years old and has never walked. She is able-bodied and a swimmer, with a smile that lights up a room.
But he is the light of her life.
Shane Burcaw, 26, and Hannah Aylward, 23, get a lot of stares when they go out in public. He was born with the neuromuscular disease spinal muscular atrophy, meaning he can't walk, move his arms or legs, and did not develop into a full-size man. She has none of those issues.
"When we go out in public, people never think I'm his girlfriend," Aylward told InsideEdition.com. Though she certainly is, and has been for the last three years. "I'm always assumed to be his sister, or his mom, or his nurse. And they'll talk down to him. So we were just sort of tired of that happening and wanted to tell people about it."
What they did was establish their very own YouTube channel and vlog that shows their everyday life, in all of its very regular glory. They go out to eat. They go on vacation. She blows his nose. They talk about the first night they slept in the same bed.
The blurb at the top of their page reads: "Once upon a time, a boy with no muscles fell madly in love with a beautiful girl who had plenty of muscle to spare. The townsfolk gasped with horror at the sight of their disgusting inter-abled relationship, but they didn't care."
The comments left by viewers are mostly positive, and often note Burcaw's biting sense of humor and Aylward's devotion and beauty.
In one video, Burcaw is lying on the couch, between Aylward's legs. "It looks like I've just given birth and we're bonding," she says. "I look like the afterbirth," he responds, deadpan.
Some comments are not positive. "People have said really bizarre things about me, that I have mental problems or I'm in it for a bad reason, [that] I couldn't possibly love Shane," she said.
When they're out and about, they sometimes get equally strange responses. Once, at a restaurant, when Burcaw asked for the check while Aylward was in the bathroom, the waitress wouldn't bring it until Aylward returned to the table. "She came back over and said, 'He asked for the check. Is that OK?'''
Another time, the couple entered a restaurant and the host asked Aylward if Burcaw needed a children's menu.
"And then when they find out that she's my girlfriend, they go to the other end of the spectrum and they're like, 'Oh my God! That is amazing!' As if she deserves praise for being in a relationship with someone that uses a wheelchair."
They met online, after Aylward saw a YouTube video of Burcaw being interviewed about his disability. She was in Minneapolis. He was in Pennsylvania. She sent him an email. He answered the next day.
"Your email was a little flirty, though," he said.
"It was," she agreed.
"You were like, 'Hey, we have a lot in common. Also, you're really cute,''' he said.
"Yeah, well, I was tired and confused," she replied.
They carried on a long-distance relationship for two years, and then decided they wanted to be together all of the time. So Burcaw moved to Minneapolis, where Aylward is finishing up her college education.
Burcaw has written three books, the newest will be published in April and is titled "Strangers Assume That My Girlfriend Is My Nurse." The cover is emblematic of their sarcastic senses of humor. Aylward is wearing a nurse's cap and is holding Burcaw as if he were a baby.
Their relationship, according to many who comment on the couple's channel, has helped others see that love is in the eye of the beholder.
A lot of people, Aylward said, have come back to apologize for posting negative comments. They write "after watching more of your videos, I realize that it's not absurd for someone to be in a relationship with a person who has a disability. Thank you for educating me." Those "are amazing," she said.
Burcaw marvels at how fast their vlog is growing. "Our followers are increasing by thousands a day," he said. "It's cool that people are embracing our relationship and what we stand for."
Aylward said being with a person in a wheelchair "feels normal to me. We have a great relationship. Shane is an amazing boyfriend."
He casts a sideways glance at her. "Awww," he said, smiling.
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