Wheelchair Accessibility while geocaching, an interview with reviewer Poltrona Polaris
In celebration of the Year of the Hide, Geocaching HQ is talking to geocachers far and wide about the delight of hiding geocaches and what to consider when placing your latest cache.
Geocachers come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of mobility. To recognize the beautiful diversity within the geocaching community, we spoke with Norwegian community volunteer reviewer Poltrona Polaris, who uses a wheelchair, to learn about the joys and challenges of geocaching in a wheelchair.
Geocaching HQ: How and when did you start geocaching?
During the summer of 2010, I was home and bored and was reading a scrapbooking forum. One of the posts asked, “What can I do this summer for fun?” One of the answers that person got was, “Go out and go geocaching.” From what I remember, the post didn’t explain what geocaching was, so I googled it. I found Geocaching.com and spent the rest of the summer learning all I could about geocaching. In September 2010, two friends and I went on holiday to Spain. I told them about geocaching, and we found our first few geocaches in Spain with a Garmin nüvi GPS.
HQ: Besides geocaching, what are some of your favorite activities?
I love to go to the theater to watch musicals, play board games with friends and family, and play video games on my computer. I also sing and play the piano.
HQ: How did you select your reviewer name? Does it hold a special significance for you?
I wanted my reviewer name to say something about where I live and that I’m sitting most of the time. So, I chose Poltrona for the first part of my reviewer name which means armchair in Italian. Since I live above the arctic circle, I thought Polaris was a good choice for the second part of my reviewer name. And that’s how I ended up with Poltrona Polaris.
HQ: Describe your geocaching set-up. Do you have any must-have supplies or TOTTs (Tools of the Trade)?
I always have my manual wheelchair with me. I also always have a pen and tweezers.
Since I don’t geocache much during winter, because of a lot of snow, I usually don’t have a flashlight with me. We have the midnight sun during summer when I’m geocaching the most.
HQ: How does geocaching in a wheelchair differ from geocaching without one?
People often don’t know what it takes for a cache to be wheelchair accessible. Geocaching in a wheelchair is always more challenging since I never know if the cache is accessible from a wheelchair or not, even if the cache page says it’s wheelchair accessible. I can often come home without any finds because the cache wasn’t wheelchair accessible after all.
HQ: When you plan an outing, how do you know which geocaches will be wheelchair accessible?
I don’t know if a ‘wheelchair accessible’ cache is actually wheelchair accessible and possible to find sitting in a wheelchair. I always go after terrain 1 caches, and I always study Google Street View to see if I can see where the cache may be hidden.
If I see on Google Street View that the cache is on grass, I don’t go out to find it because I know that wheelchairs don’t roll well on grass. Another obstacle is if there is a ditch between the road and the cache. I read the cache page and logs to try and find out if the cache is actually possible to find sitting in a wheelchair.
HQ: What are some misconceptions about geocaching in a wheelchair?
Many think that if there is a paved road almost all the way to the cache, it is wheelchair accessible. But imagine if, ½ meter (1.5 ft) before the cache, the pavement stops, there is a curb, then grass after the curb and the cache is actually in a tree. It could be labeled as a ‘wheelchair accessible’ cache. That is wrong since the wheelchair can’t get up the curb and can’t roll on the grass.
HQ: How can cache owners make wheelchair accessible caches?
The first question you have to think about when hiding a wheelchair accessible cache is, can you get to and reach the cache without lifting your feet? Second, will you be able to search for the cache, retrieve it, and put it back sitting on a kitchen chair with your feet on the ground? If the answer to both questions is yes, it’s most likely wheelchair accessible.
HQ: What’s your favorite part about geocaching?
My favorite part about geocaching is finding a cache by myself without having to ask for help from others to retrieve the cache and replace it where it belongs. I was in Berlin geocaching in 2018 and was so surprised and pleased that all caches I tried to find that were marked ‘wheelchair accessible’ were actually wheelchair accessible.
HQ: Do you have any advice for geocachers?
Wheelchair accessible caches are not only for wheelchair users. It’s also good for people that have different mobility issues. If a geocache really is wheelchair accessible, it tells you that the cache can’t be on the ground and can’t be hidden very high. So it helps everyone to know where to look for the cache and where not to look. There are a lot of places the cache can’t be hidden if it’s truly wheelchair accessible.
I would also give the advice to make most Events wheelchair accessible so everyone, no matter their mobility, can join the Event and become a part of the geocaching community.
The geocaching community overflows with incredible stories about geocaching! The Year of the Hide is a great time to hide a cache and share a special place or creation with the community.
When you hide a cache, use accurate difficulty and terrain ratings, create a detailed cache description, and add helpful attributes to enable geocachers of all mobility levels to know what to expect at the posted coordinates. Happy hiding!
Do you or a friend geocache with varying levels of mobility? Tell us your story in the comments below.