Bowflex VeloCore Deaf Accessibility Review
A disappointingly inaccessible experience for deaf and hard of hearing users as Bowflex considers captions to be a "good suggestion" but evidently not good enough to provide them.
Score0 out of 10
- The "Explore the World" feature is fun
- Lean mechanic makes for nice core workout
- Hundreds of available videos entirely lacking captions
- Bowflex doesn't seem to care that their content is inaccessible
- Main features of the bike are inaccessible to deaf/hoh users
As we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, indoor, at-home exercise remains in the spotlight. Gym goers can’t safely workout at their gyms and in some parts of the world, it’s the middle of winter and too cold to venture outdoors to get our hearts pumping.
I bought the Bowflex VeloCore 16 in December 2020 when I lived in a densely populated urban area where both the other residents who didn’t care about mask mandates and the unattended icy sidewalks made outdoor exercise a far greater health risk for me than just sitting there doing nothing. An avid cyclist in my teen years, I was eager to find something that counted as exercise that didn’t leave my downstairs neighbors hoping for my demise as I lept around my apartment with the Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure with all the grace of a 150 pound Bambi.
My bike was delivered and assembled on December 26, 2020 and the assembly itself was a lovely experience. The technician stayed masked the entire time and maintained social distancing. He didn’t even mind that as an immunocompromised person, I kept my windows open during his visit despite it being frigid outside.
Once assembled, my excitement only grew. I’d never had a piece of home exercise equipment before and for a fleeting moment, the thought that perhaps I was finally a successful, proper adult came over me. At 38 years old, I was ready to lose all the weight I’d found during the first pandemic year and get back in shape for the first time in a decade.
The next morning, though, all my excitement vanished upon discovering the very reason I’d bought the bike—the “adaptive workouts” which Bowflex says adapt and grow in intensity as your fitness level advances—were not accessible to me. I’m a hard of hearing person who wears hearing aids in both ears. Like any reasonable person, I do not have the desire to break my very expensive hearing aids with sweat or feel sweat pooling in my ear canals trapped there by said hearing aids, so I exercise with my hearing aids out. The problem?
Not one bit of Bowflex’s JRNY (the exercise app the bike comes with) content has captions. Not a single video or adaptive exercise routine.
Bowflex doesn’t want Deaf/hoh customers
I first tweeted my disappointment and when Bowflex actually responded, I felt hopeful. 2020 was a much more innocent time when I was still capable of feeling hope, though their response of calling my request for captions a “great suggestion” should have been a red flag.
Captions are no more a suggestion than hand railings on stairs or ramps or properly functioning elevators. To be clear, I was not “suggesting” Bowflex, a company I’d just given $1,700 to, be so kind as to grant me access to this thing I’d just spent $1,700 on. I was saying it was necessary. But such is the life of most disabled people. We can buy a million things and most of the time have to ask nicely to be able to access the thing we bought or the place we wish to spend money at.
Peloton does it right
It’s essential to note that captioned exercise content is not unheard of. Peloton, the main competitor of the Bowflex VeloCore, provides users with captions for its video content. So, you see, I’m not even asking Bowflex to be groundbreaking and give me never-before-seen-in-home-exercise captions. I’m simply asking them to follow a precedent already set by their competition.
Even if Bowflex doesn’t have a single care for its deaf and hoh customers, and it seems they don’t, one would think they’d want to at least be in line with the competition on what they offer.
One year later
Now that it’s once again too cold for me to exercise outside and the COVID-19 virus is once again surging, I returned to my VeloCore yesterday for some exercise. Imagine my surprise upon firing the thing up, waiting for it to install a dozen updates, and discovering that none of those updates were captions.
The above image shows but a fraction of the guided bike exercise videos available. And again, none of them are captioned. Not on the VeloCore screen and not in the app on my iPhone.
The adaptive workouts, some of which are shown above, have less narration than the videos but are still entirely lacking captions. The narration in these offer both encouragement and instruction. I don’t know about you but I like being encouraged when I’m powering through a workout and I certainly like knowing what I’m expected to be doing.
The only workout choice that is accessible for deaf and hoh users is the “Explore the World” feature in which you bike along with videos of an impressive selection of cities throughout the world like Istanbul or County Kerry in Ireland and only if you use the “manual” workout option which offers no vocal encouragement or instruction.
I wish I had a Peloton
It’s been a year and I sit here still disappointed (but not surprised) that my expensive bike which I bought and then asked permission to be able to access has all the utility to me, a hard of hearing person, of a road bike stuck on an indoor use stand. This machine that I was so excited to use sits mostly useless because all of its features are locked away to me behind inaccessible content. I can use the leaning feature and it can track my distance but if I want encouragement I have to shout it to myself which my neighbors may think is odd. And if I want accessible, captioned workout routines? Well, I open up the Peloton app on my iPad and prop it up on the handlebars and ride myself into a sweat.