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Cane and Able Fitness: Accessible Exercise for People who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Evan Schwerbrock turned a lifelong passion for exercise into Cane and Able Fitness, a resource for people who are blind and visually impaired.

Evan is dressed in athletic gear and holding a heavy exercise ball.

I grew up in the country in Kewanee, Illinois, at our family veterinary clinic. Growing up, I was a skinny, nerdy little kid – and my interest in fitness developed to address that!

Fast forward to 2014: I had graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and was working a couple of jobs in the fitness sector. Then that November, my sight went downhill suddenly. I had always worn glasses, then contact lenses, so thought I was just in need of a new prescription. As it turned out, I had developed Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.

I learned the “fun” way that I could no longer drive, play typical sports or even do paperwork at my jobs. But I still had to lift my weights, and the horse stalls at home needed to be cleaned, so we figured out adaptations to use my limited vision to the maximum.

Getting the Cane…

After adapting my way through those jobs for another six months and getting driven around our little town, I moved to Chicago to pursue my Master’s Degree.

Thank goodness my sister lived there and went to the same college. As we were walking along the street, I tripped for the umpteenth time on something I didn’t see coming and she said “That’s it – the Chicago Lighthouse is a few blocks from here, we are going to get you a cane!”

Becoming Able…

That white cane and learning to better advocate for myself changed the game for me. At the end of two years, I had made friends, continued my fitness passion and earned my Master’s Degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Applied Exercise Physiology – all with a better GPA than I had in undergrad with all my sight.

Since then, I have relocated to Peoria, Illinois, first living with my brother and now on my own. I teach future personal trainers at the local community college and train clients at a chiropractic clinic and gym. I have gotten a few more certifications like my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification. I also have competed in about a dozen strongman competitions in the last 6 years – even winning my class at Illinois Strongest Man in 2019.

Creating Cane and Able Fitness

But the most important thing I have done is start Cane and Able Fitness, LLC with my family. It’s a fitness resource for people who are visually impaired. I paired my education with my experience as a blind person to figure out the best and most relevant adaptations to exercise and nutrition. A huge focus is making accommodations without watering down the effects of physical activity and quality nutrition. We have several offerings I want to briefly discuss in the hopes that they can help many of you or those you know.

First is our website where we publish articles about myriad topics. We have it all – from at-home workouts and gym workouts with plenty of detail to cooking adaptations, everything is designed with visually impaired people in mind.

A big offering on our website is our free Gym Acclimation Program. This program is a two-day a week, three-week program specially tailored toward anyone with a visual impairment who wants to work out in a gym but isn’t sure how to start. Each day has a different style of programming scheme to see what you like, as well as independence-building tasks to quickly build your familiarity and comfort with aspects of the gym. In free, accessible file downloads and a YouTube playlist, I break down each day further.

Next is our social media. We are very active on Instagram and Facebook, producing content on different topics, giving adaptations and audio or written descriptions for those of any vision level.

I have also been doing consultation work wherein I go to an organization and teach important fitness concepts such as how to tactilely feel good posture and what exercises to use to support it. I have gotten to work with the SOAR program in St. Louis and the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and more, with more to come!

What’s next?

We are also developing online remote exercise programming and an online fitness and nutrition course for the visually impaired. The programming will allow people of any vision level to work with me to develop an exercise program to help them toward their goals, taking their equipment and fitness levels into account. And our online course is our most aggressive project to date. It will cover a multitude of exercise and nutrition topics in a beginner-friendly fashion.

Topics covered include basic nutrition principles adaptations to nutrition concepts, exercise programming basics, exercise instructions, and more. It will also include a video catalog of important exercises with high-quality and contrast video as well as thorough audio description for any vision level. These exciting resources will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

In the end, I really hope that my experience and expertise can be of great service to the global blind and visually impaired community. It is amazing how much we are still capable of and we look forward to playing our little part.

About the Author

Evan Schwerbrock is a Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is currently responsible for all articles, seminars, training and information from Cane and Able Fitness.

Follow him on Instagram at @schwerbacca. For more information on Cane and Able Fitness, visit their website or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

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