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Earle Baum Center in Santa Rosa opens labyrinth for people with sight loss

Labyrinth grand opening

The Earle Baum Center will hold its labyrinth dedication at the site on Friday, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The center is located at 4539 Occidental Road in Santa Rosa.

Patricia Jefferson has frequently visited labyrinths tucked away across the North Bay, and that pastime made her think how great it would be to have one at the Earle Baum Center in Santa Rosa where she works as a vision rehabilitation instructor.

The problem is that most labyrinths are designed for those who can see. Some are painted on the ground, in contrasting colors or have intricate turns that are difficult to navigate for those with disabilities.

“They were all visual, you’d have to be able to see to walk or you would have to hold on to someone as a guide,” Jefferson said.

But with a little ingenuity and creative design, Jefferson’s dream has become a reality at the Earle Baum Center, a service hub for those with sight loss, where they can now enjoy the ancient, meditative wonders of a labyrinth walk outdoors. Designed for those who walk with a long cane, guide dog, walker or wheelchair, the circuitous course was completed in late August and will be showcased Friday during an inaugural ceremony at the center.

The labyrinth employs a Baltic Wheel design with two entrances and paths - a short one that takes under a minute to walk and a longer one that takes several minutes. The course is lined with bricks raised 4 inches off the concrete base and the wide turns accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.

Jefferson, a longtime tai chi student with a keen interest in movement and music, started with a rough design that was honed by Bay Area labyrinth designer Lars Howlett. Construction was made possible by funds from an anonymous donor.

Bob Sonnenberg, the center’s director of development, said the labyrinth will be incorporated into the center’s mobility and orientation classes. It will provide a break from the usual straight lines and right angles that rule modern society, he said.

“When you lose your sight, whether all or part of it, you have to learn how to use things differently,” said Sonnenberg, who suffered partial sight loss in 2004 as a result of myopic degeneration. Most instruction, even for guide dogs, focuses on straight-line travel.

“This is circular,” Sonnenberg said.

Maia Scott, a labyrinth facilitator certified by Veriditas, a nonprofit that promotes the spiritual and communal aspects of labyrinths, said the center’s labyrinth is one of the only ones she knows of that is accessible to those with sight loss. Scott, a City College of San Francisco instructor who teaches theater and art to those with disabilities, is scheduled to speak about the history of labyrinths at the inaugural ceremony.

Maia, who also has sight loss, said many labyrinths are representative of life’s journey and some cultures use them as a symbol of pilgrimage.

“For me, walking the labyrinth, as someone who is visually impaired, is a chance to walk with harmony with others without having to worry about what other people are thinking or about being in the way,” she said. “There’s a synergy about walking with other people in the labyrinth. ...We’re all gentle with each other as we pass each other.”

Labyrinth grand opening

The Earle Baum Center will hold its labyrinth dedication at the site on Friday, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The center is located at 4539 Occidental Road in Santa Rosa.

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