Disability and the Cuddlist

August 2017

Nurturing touch helps us feel connected to the human experience – a connection many people with disabilities have lacked throughout their lives. Steve has spina bifida – a defect in the growth of the spinal column at birth – causing him to experience functional and sensational difficulties. Before finding his Cuddlist, Ilya, he rarely experienced any touch apart from the transactional touch that occurs between a patient and doctor. Similar to many other people with disabilities, the people in Steve’s life tend to be touch-avoidant, depriving him of vital nurturing touch. Ilya’s sessions with Steve involve addressing his touch needs by practicing safe and caring touch. Their sessions are emotionally healing because they are a space where Steve is able to voice his touch needs. It takes bravery to be vulnerable but, as a Cuddlist, it is Ilya’s job to create the space for her client to be brave and then meet his needs in a way that other people in his life cannot.


“For me touch can be as important as air or food. Touch is pretty much what I need most and what hasn’t been in my life the most.”
-Steve, Cuddlist client


Social isolation is a universal problem. We all have a need for connection and the pain we feel when we are deprived of this connection is real. People with disabilities compared to people without are much more likely to be socially ostracized for looking or acting differently; people with disabilities are often excluded from relationships, both platonic and sexual, and feel like they don’t fit into social norms. This isolation can compound into feeling worse about a person’s self image and worsening mental health. In a study for Social Psychiatry John Collette found that “Physical limitation, dependency and social isolation were all found to be associated with poor mental health.” As Cuddlist we intend to provide a safe, communicative and respectable space for people with disability by providing a destigmatized environment for self expression.


“Steven’s story is incredibly touching and tugs at my heart strings. It just goes to show that many people,especially those with chronic illness, are often touch deprived—-whether it’s because of stigma, physical deformities, “looking different”— of this fundamental and unmet human need. In fact, the deprivation of touch and intimacy can actually be more difficult than the challenges of the disease condition itself. This is observation is both powerful and poignant, as it highlights how “simple” yet inaccessible the remedy has been. Often bereft and isolated, patients with chronic medical conditions, like Steve who has Spina Bifida, can derive tremendous health and psychological benefits by establishing human connection through touch.”
-Dr. Dan Yadegar


Cuddlist sets itself apart as an opportunity for people to explore what it means to set boundaries and listen to needs in order to create a consensual experience of bonding and growth through touch. People with disabilities often have damaged self-image and find it hard to be comfortable due to times in life meant for discovery and evolution being replaced by stress and medical tests (Coleridge, 1993). The Cuddlist experience creates a space where people with disabilities can decide what they want. By breaking the mold of an objectifying and broken system we hope to give much needed touch to people who usually do not have access to such a basic need. Another problem for many people with disabilities is a lack of opportunity to express their emotional issues. (Morris, 1989; Swain 2001). At Cuddlist we value all of our clients as holistic human beings and realize problems physically or mentally does not mean you are broken. We understand that being disabled is never easy and we intend to provide people with a safe space where they can truly embrace themselves for who they are rather than defining them by their disability.



Coleridge, P. (2001). Disability, liberation, and development. Oxford: Oxfam.
Policy Practice, Oxfam


Ludwig, E., & Collette, J. (1970). Dependency, social isolation and mental health in a disabled population.
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Link Springer.


French, S., & Swain, J. (n.d.). The Relationship between Disabled People and Health and Welfare Professionals.
Handbook of Disability Studies. Sage Pub

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