“I try to do things that people think blind people can’t do,” Amber Sherrard said on a recent afternoon at LightHouse, “That’s my main goal.” Amber had just spent the weekend with 11 blind students doing just that –– climbing, flying and suspended in mid-air.
Amber offers a variety of fitness programs and excursions to the community at LightHouse, and has no interest in advancing stereotypes about blind people by keeping options limited to new and emerging sports such as Goalball which, despite their value, are often thought of as the only sports that are accessible.
Amber Sherrard, LightHouse’s Health and Wellness Program Coordinator, views liberated movement as foundational to overall wellbeing and believes these skills are crucial for moving through the world with aplomb.
Amber facilitates activities from pole dancing to hiking to chair fitness classes for people with limited mobility. Amber’s chair fitness class includes a mix of yogic movements, stretching, strength and balance exercises, and posture improvement training.
“Sometimes blind people don’t do certain things because there are no other blind people there,” she said. “Our community provides a safe space for people to try different things, and learn, so they feel more comfortable doing things independently.”
Besides classes, Amber also organizes and facilitates a themed wellness retreat every three months. The most recent retreat featured indoor skydiving, acro yoga and rock climbing at Mission Cliffs in San Francisco.
“These programs do change that perspective for people like volunteers or community members; I think it helps them to demolish misconceptions about blind people,” she said.
Amber said her favorite programs take place outside of LightHouse, where the activities take on a symbolic and practical significance for people outside of the immediate group. She views educating the public about the capability of blind people as one of the most gratifying parts of her job.
September also saw the kickoff of LightHouse’s new hiking group, which had 35 participants of all different backgrounds and mobility levels taking on a 5-mile journey around Angel Island on a beautiful Sunday morning. In October, the group will meet again on October 7th for a hike around the Lakeside Nature Trail at the Lafayette Reservoir.
“It definitely changes the perception of blindness itself, especially when we do activities outside of these four walls,” Amber said. “People get to see that blind people are out living their best life, too!”
Amber also holds educational programs and seminars on nutrition, which she said is critical, as obesity disproportionately affects people with disabilities.
The scope of Amber’s work extends beyond the classes proper; she noted that students often apply practical skills, and most often confidence, to their lives beyond exercise. She said that students often remark to her that they feel better equipped to handle obstacles at home and in the workplace.
“It definitely provides a sense of empowerment,” she said of the classes.
Looking forward, Amber said that she hopes to continue to serve students by offering a changing variety of activities, including kickboxing and hip hop dance.
In January, LightHouse started offering TMAP — on-demand tactile street maps — for order at our Adaptations Store (1-888-400-8933). We have been hearing some amazing stories about how our maps are being used, so we wanted to share them with our mapping community. Order yours today by calling 1-888-400-8933.
When Sheri Wells-Jensen was a child, she got one book per week. That was how it worked, for a blind kid – a braille reader – who relied on braille lending libraries. Each week, Sheri would bound out of her front door, crashing through her front yard and into the mailman’s truck, to get her hands on one new book. Now a linguistics professor at Bowling Green State University, access to language and information has become a passion of Sheri’s, as well as other cool things like aliens and ukuleles.
She also loves exploring cities. Depending on how you see it, Market Street in San Francisco can feel like a boulevard of first-world efficiency or a medieval circus. At times, it feels like both at once. This wild, eclectic fusion can be intimidating for some, but this crazy hubbub is what Sheri loves most about visiting the city by the bay. On a recent trip, we had the pleasure of printing out her first-ever TMAP.
It was right before she was taking off to catch the bus back to her hotel. The bus stop was a few blocks away and Sheri, her own most cheerful but fierce advocate, exclaimed when we told her we had a tool to help her learn the neighborhood in just a few minutes – and that it was something she could bring with her, should she get lost or just want to explore.
“Having an accurate,accessible,hard copy map to explore saves endless frustration,” Sheri says. “It changes the rules of the game: without the map, I get directions and learn a route, hoping to fill in details later on. With the map, I learn the neighborhood and then decide how I want to get to my destination.”
Holding her TMAP in front of her, pressed against her torso as she inspected the braille labels and learned the many swerving diagonals of the area, it was impossible not to feel the infectious sense of satisfaction that comes from unlocking so much knowledge with such ease – especially for a kid who grew up on only one book at a time.
As Sheri sees it, maps and tactile aids are a crucial tool for anyone who needs access to information. And when she wants to learn an area, she thinks it’s better than talking. “I basically have two choices,” she explains. “I can sit some poor unsuspecting fellow down and grill him relentlessly about every intersection and every street name (most of which he won’t remember) – or – with a map in my hands, I can transfer the whole picture of the area straight into my head, thereby saving time and preserving my friendships.”
To order a map, call our product specialists at 1-888-400-8933 and specify the street address of the map you’re interested in receiving. Within two business days we’ll ship you your map, or make it available for pick up at the Adaptations Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco, CA). Each TMAP package is $19.99 per address.
What’s in the package?
You will receive 3 map versions printed at simple, moderate and dense map scale ratios
A tactile map key
An introductory page
All materials are printed on 11” X 11.5” sheets of embossed paper and include ink / large print labels in addition to braille