Guided meditation apps aren’t doing enough to include disabled people

Guided meditation apps aren't doing enough to include disabled people


Hearing the words ‘walk through a’ forest/mountain/beach always throws me off somewhat; instead of relaxing me it niggles me (Picture: Getty Images)Have you ever noticed that many guided meditations start off with an instruction such as ‘you are walking through a forest…’?
Well, wait a minute, what if you are scared of forests? I mean hello, I’m still traumatised from The Blair Witch Project circa ‘99…not exactly the most relaxing imagery!
OK, I guess I can come on board with the forest but what I often struggle with, as I lay on my bed trying to channel my inner guru, is the fact that I cannot walk.
Hearing the words ‘walk through a’ forest/mountain/beach always throws me off somewhat; instead of relaxing me it niggles me. Just another little microaggression in my daily routine that proves how systemic ableism truly is.
You may have heard of ‘mindfulness’ but it is hard to clear my mind and focus on the moment when the narrator’s reminding me of yet another social exclusion I feel as a disabled woman. 
I have a meditation app on my phone – downloading it was a suggestion by my sister who rated it highly. In all honesty I wasn’t too keen at first as I know I’m terrible at committing to something like a daily meditation, heck I even forget to take my daily supplements even though they are in one of those weekly pill boxes on my nightstand. 
Also it wasn’t free, it’s a subscription, something I pay around £30 a year for. I treated myself because I needed something to help with my anxiety, which has, like for many of us over the past year, reared its ugly and unforgiving head ensuring that I don’t sleep and leaves me convinced Armageddon is upon us.
So, each night after I’ve put my cats to bed at 10pm sharp, I quietly get into bed, hoping they won’t start scratching at the door, and listen to my daily meditation.
It generally starts by asking you to get comfortable, usually with a straight back – another thing I find pretty awkward as someone with scoliosis. The session normally rounds off by asking you to wiggle your toes, feel the ground under your feet and so forth. It has recently occurred to me, since I began using the app six months ago, that these are all ableist comments. 
Many of my friends and colleagues are paraplegic or have conditions meaning their nervous system is affected. I have nerve damage in my lower legs from a spinal operation that didn’t go to plan and I can’t remember the last time I put my feet on the floor.
OK, so do I believe these comments are purposely to exclude the disability community? No. I do however believe these small details and failure to recognise that bodies come in all shapes, sizes and abilities are down to ignorance and deep-rooted systemic disablism (discrimination or prejudice towards deaf and disabled people) and ableism (discrimination in favour of non-disabled people).
I can already hear the critics now – ‘what woke dribble, surely, it’s just semantics rather than ableism? A guided meditation can’t cater for everyone.’ 
To a point I agree, creating a more inclusive world is not straight forward but this doesn’t mean we should not try to think about equality and, in doing so, creating equity so future generations will not need to fight to feel included.
There are one billion disabled people globally, we are the world’s largest ‘minority’ group and our spending power with the disability market alone reaches £13 trillion, that’s a market bigger than China. So if I’m spending 30 odd pounds a year on an app, I as a consumer would like to feel that my money is valued and I am recognised as a member of society not a second class citizen, which I often feel like daily. 

Companies should acknowledge that deaf and disabled people exist and that we contribute to the economy (Picture: Samantha Renke)Targeting meditation apps may seem like a drop in the ocean but, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide with adults with disabilities reporting that they experience more mental distress than those without disabilities. Covid-19 greatly impacted the mental health of people with disabilities from increased isolation, disrupted routines, limited access to healthcare and reduced resources.
Perhaps for some these things are ‘simply an app’, but for others, myself included, they are invaluable tools to maintain wellbeing and keep anxiety at bay.
Change could be as simple as using phrases such as ‘get yourself into a comfortable position, no matter what that looks like’ or ‘if you can’ wiggle your toes. It really would not cost anything to create a more inclusive environment in this way.
And it isn’t just about the language used. I would like to see all apps become more accommodating by ensuring that their software offers a range of accessibility features such as, larger text, ALT, text spacing, animation pauses, screen contrast options and so forth.
I have recently been creating my own website and these are some of the things I needed to think about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that tech designers and developers take the needs of disabled people into account.
It’s about businesses recognising they aren’t doing enough but that they are eager and willing to pledge an action plan to become more accessible.
Any brands that are engaging with the disability community via initiatives such as The Valuable 500 (a global movement putting disability on the business leadership agenda) or signing up to Purple Tuesday (a change programme for organisations to get involved in a common goal of improving the customer experience for disabled people) are doing it right in my book. 
Companies should acknowledge that deaf and disabled people exist and that we contribute to the economy. We want to feel represented and we can certainly help brands and organisations to figure out how best to include us – they simply have to ask. 
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