When Zwift recently announced that it was taking the first step toward the representation and inclusion of adaptive and disabled athletes through the introduction of a hand cycle, it marked the culmination of over two years of behind-the-scenes work to raise awareness and promote the grassroots effort.
The adaptive and disabled cycling community deserves this long-awaited victory, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to ride alongside you. There’s more work to do before we can say that we’ve achieved complete inclusion and accessibility for the less visibly disabled virtual cyclists.
Below find the report published shortly before Zwift’s momentous announcement.
Code data that has emerged over the past 24 hours points to the momentous change.
Adaptive and disabled athlete accessibility, inclusion, and representation on Zwift have been a prolonged topic of interest and debate. Zwift’s head of PR and DEIB Inclusion Council member, Chris Snook, acknowledged this when asked for a report published to CyclingNews on March 17, 2022, when he said, “We understand that from the outside this is frustrating. It is definitely a priority with plenty of internal support from staff across the business. The aim is to deliver an equitable solution for all athletes living with a disability.”
Chris Snook stated at the time that Zwift conducted a research study examining the needs of athletes with disabilities in the virtual cycling community with the help of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). The study’s research is to provide an understanding of the unique demands of all riders with a disability on the platform, represent all adaptive athletes, and improve accessibility. For adaptive athletes, the outcome would be a step forward in the multi-year struggle to gain the representation that other platforms, like then RGT, introduced in 2020 and reported to CyclingNews on February 7, 2022.
According to long-time Zwifter and administrator of the Zwift Hype Facebook group Jonathon Levie, the results may be coming. His post states, “Something that’s been asked for by many appears to be coming Soon… Zwift just added a Handcycle and matching wheels to the game code.” Based on the interest and comments, the change is long-awaited and welcomed.
According to Levie, “I can see it added to the code for a future update,” and continued stating the Zwift Handcycle has a designated signature number and a wheelset to match. He went on to say, “Zwift also added the new 50+ kit unlocks at the same time.”
Well, then, why wasn’t the Zwift Handcycle included among the recently announced improvements coming to Zwift? The changes included the rebranded font that has drawn ire and ridicule from a vocal subset of Zwift’s riders. The majority feel the outcry is a non-issue, and learning from Nathan Guerra during a conversation on the Virtual Velo Podcast, the font is proprietary to Zwift and has been around a while.
Members of the Adaptive Athlete community hope that Zwift chose to keep it aside to shock the virtual cycling world with the bombshell stand-alone declaration.
“If it happens,” a skeptical member of the disabled Zwift community Andy Shuttleworth notes, “the impact will be enormous and have a wide range of implications. These will include not only an improved experience of Zwift but extend into improved mental health, a sense of inclusion, and a simple way to identify with others in-game. It will encourage participation by more adaptive riders, which will benefit all of us.”
Unfortunately, the disabled athletes on the platform have a right to be cynical after feeling neglected for so long. Much the way members of the visually-impaired rider population think of the rebranded font’s reading difficulty, despite Snook’s assurance during the March 2022 interview to accomodate less visible disabilities in the virtual space, like visual impairment.
Nonetheless, the significant step toward adaptive-athlete representation and inclusion is a welcomed gift by the affected advocating for years. The request for comment from Zwift PR’s Snook went unanswered. The cynics speculate the answer will be as it was then, “I’d love to give you more than a “coming Zoon,” but I’m not in a position to be able to promise when this will come.”
Let’s hope Zoon is finally now!
What do you think?
Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!