Accessible Fitness, more choices for more people

Fitness has always been a concern with regard to both mental and physical health regardless of age, gender, or any other variables that make each one of us unique. And for those in the blind community, fitness is every bit as much—if not more—important.

Exercise for the visually impaired is something that should be incorporated into a weekly, if not daily, routine for a variety of reasons that are both similar and different from people within the sighted community. For those with total loss of sight as well as for those who are low sighted, a lack of regular exercise can bring on a host of other issues, including weight gain, sluggishness, and perhaps worst of all for many, insomnia or a circadian rhythm that has been thrown completely off track.

A quality workout done at the right time of day and at the right pace to meet your unique physical and mental needs is just what the doctor may have forgotten to order. For many blind people, fitness has been a challenge: without someone to guide you and without the ability to drive yourself to the gym, it becomes obvious why so many visually impaired individuals give up—but with the BlindAlive line of Fitness Workouts for blind people, you’ll never have to depend on anyone else again.

Yoga and Strength Training with wieghts for blind people along with a variety of other cardiovascular exercises help our bodies stay toned, help us gain muscle mass and lose weight, but most of all, can help lead a blind person away from a sense of helplessness.

Are you ready to sweat? Come get healthy and leave all your notions of not being able to get fit due to your visual impairment behind with BlindAlive!

My Fitness Adventure Part Two

This week, we are pleased to bring you the second of a two-part Article by Deborah Armstrong. If you would like to read the first post, you will find it here.

We’ll start this post with more helpful tips:

Bring a tape or digital recorder so you can make notes about the placement of machines and layout of controls. If it is a small gym, they may be willing to let you label controls in Braille. I use Benisons laminating plastic, which is transparent, doesn’t come off easily, and holds up well.

You can also take your recorder to a gym and pay a starving student to describe everything. Or, post a sign requesting a volunteer to assist you and be clear about the commitment.  "once a month for two hours" for example.

If you want to learn more about gym equipment, YouTube is your friend. Search for orientation videos put out by colleges, senior centers and even for-profit gyms.  When a video is too visual in one area, you will find another that explains the same machine verbally, so simply watch a lot of videos to gain a complete audio picture of the equipment available.

If you have college students earning extra credit by assisting you, they can also describe YouTube videos or check your form if you are following a BlindAlive routine. Looking for retired fitness professionals is also a good source for volunteers.

If you feel like the people at the gym you visited were unfriendly, you don't need to go back. I like the social aspect of working out with friends, but I also relish the quiet time I spend at home with my music and my own equipment.

I used to be embarrassed being clumsy and obese and was sure I didn't belong in a gym. I thought people were staring at me when I felt the equipment and I didn't want to be groping around all the time.  When I realized that if I truly didn't belong, people wouldn't be welcoming, I could vote with my feet, soI stopped worrying. I have visited gyms when I was on vacation and the experience was sometimes unpleasant and sometimes fabulous. Now, I have two fitness centers I love, where everyone is friendly and glad to see me there. And because I visit all the time, I, am in fact not groping around that much!

There's no reason why you can't have a hybrid approach to fitness. Though I do use a gym, I also have weights and resistance bands at home, plus a rather creaky old treadmill I bought on Craigslist. Craigslist is an excellent way to purchase quality used equipment if you have a trusted friend who can drive you to people's homes to try it out first.

Sometimes friends are willing to trade, so if you cook, do crafts or can help them sell their unused items on Craigslist, you can both get the assistance you need.

Though the gym is strictly optional, one piece of equipment I use only in the gym is the Bosu. This is a flattened sphere, similar to the stability ball, but the flat part rests on the ground, with the round part aimed at the ceiling. Sighted people stand on the ball to do their squats and dumbbell routines. Bosus come in all sizes and can be inflated to different firmness levels.

I use the Bosu differently from sighted athletes, after working with our exercise physiology instructor. I place the ball near a wall, and step on it while lightly touching the wall with my fingertips, which helps to ensure my balance and safety. I practice stepping on and off the ball, sometimes backwards, sometimes sideways, sometimes making circles with my free arm or flinging that arm up towards the ceiling. By throwing my balance off deliberately while stepping up and down I simulate the action of tripping on an unexpected curb.

I also lift free weights on the Bosu, but only with one hand at a time while using the other to contact the wall.

When I first started, I used a shorter Bosu and kept both hands on the wall. If I were younger, I probably could progress to being completely free of the wall.

Regular work on the Bosu has helped me climb effortlessly on and off high train platforms, cope gracefully with uneven or extra steep staircases, and not be afraid of tripping on those awful cement blocks in parking lots that keep cars from backing over curbs. Though I coped with these things fine when I was younger and athletic, with a weak knee, the Bosu training has made me confident again.

At home you can practice similar balance exercises with old phone books. Fasten them together with duct tape so you have a secure, slightly squishy high step. You can make it even squishier by taping some foam on top, but be sure it's a secure platform that can hold your weight. My instructor says the squishier this platform is, and the more you work to maintain your balance, the more you work your core. Then standing near a wall, practice hopping on and off your phone book stack from different directions, backwards, sideways, and while doing biceps curls or lateral arm raises.

You can also balance on one foot anywhere at home, with your fingertips touching a nearby sturdy table or wall, Count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc. Try to see if you can balance on one foot longer and longer each day with your other foot rising higher and higher.

When sighted people do balancing exercises, they are told to focus their gaze on one stationary object in front of them. I've found that playing a radio serves the same purpose.

Both these simple balance exercises were taught to me by a certified physical therapist who says they are good for everyone but especially helpful for visually impaired seniors who are more likely to fall from imperfect balance and unseen tripping hazards.

Last week, I was walking around without my dog, and opened a door I thought lead to the restroom. It was actually at the head of a flight of stairs, and rushing through the door, both feet slip down the first step. But it wasn't a repeat of my previous bathroom adventure. Thanks to my fitness training, I managed to keep myself upright, as I "skied" down the entire flight of stairs. I landed on the bottom step, like a cat, unhurt and still on my feet. Keeping my knees bent, my core strong and my kinesthetic memory of what good balance felt like, I prevented what could have been a very serious injury.

About Deborah: Deborah Armstrong is the Alternate Media specialist at De Anza community college in Cupertino, just a few miles from Apple’s famous main campus. She assists students with a plethora of print impairments to successfully acquire and read textbooks in a variety of ways. She is an area coordinator for Golden retriever rescue – her volunteer passion -- and is working her sixth guide, who quite naturally, is a golden.

You can contact Deborah by visiting her Facebook page

Many thanks to Deborah for sharing her story, and some helpful tips. If you have your own fitness tips to share, you can do so in our Facebook group, or by sending email to




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