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Accessibility while geocaching — interview with tribble_eater

Geocachers come from very different backgrounds and have their own set of differences. We met up with a geocacher, Tiffany (tribble_eater), to geocache with her and learn some valuable information about what it’s like to geocache with a wheelchair and tips on how cache owners can make simple updates to accommodate all geocachers better.

How and when did you start geocaching?

I started geocaching in 2019. We wanted to spend more time outdoors with our kids but needed something to motivate them when we went on walks or other adventures. Geocaching fit the bill perfectly!

Tiffany geocaching with her daughter in nature.

When you plan an outing, how do you choose which caches to find?

I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user, which means sometimes I need to use my wheelchair, and other times I don’t. So the first thing I do is check in with my body to see how I think I’ll be moving around for the day. If it’s a day when I’m using my wheelchair, I’ll search for caches using the wheelchair attribute. Then, if it’s not the same day, I’ll contact the cache owner (CO) ahead of time to double-check to make sure that the cache is really accessible according to my needs. Oftentimes, COs only think about stairs when considering accessibility, and there’s a lot more that goes into it, like height and ability to reach things.

Tiffany en route to a geocache in the city.

Describe your geocaching set-up. Do you have any must-have supplies or TOTTs (tools of the trade)?

I don’t use anything that the typical geocacher doesn’t. I’ve been asked about a reacher, but they tend to not be precise enough actually to use for caching. I used to use a mirror on a long stick so I could look at places that I couldn’t see, but I found that more frustrating because I would often locate something but then not be able to reach it.

Just because the location is low to the ground does not mean it is automatically wheelchair friendly.

What are some misconceptions about geocaching while using a wheelchair?

I think the main misconception is that the only barrier to caching while using a wheelchair are stairs or bumpy/uneven paths. Using a wheelchair reduces your ability to reach things, both up high, as well as stretching, leaning, and reaching. For example, if something is higher than about 4 or 4½ feet off the ground, I’m likely not to be able to reach it. I can also only lean over so far to reach something down low before I would fall out of my chair. The same thing happened with stretching to the front. And if I have to reach to the side, my chair can impact how far I can reach. There are also things to consider, like can a wheelchair squeeze between stationary objects (like park benches) around the cache?

Finally, like many geocachers, I like to sometimes cache by myself, so I don’t always have someone who can help me if I realize I’m in an “oh so close, yet it’s impossible” situation. Urban caches are often easier to access because of parking, sidewalks, and curb cuts. However, things change in an urban environment more readily, so something that is accessible one day might not be accessible another day if something gets moved, either around the cache or the cache itself. I also don’t think people realize how very few caches are listed as wheelchair accessible. I don’t have many options.

Tiffany demonstrates a location that would be ideal for a geocache in a parking area.

What helpful tips do you have for COs to help make their geocaches wheelchair accessible?

COs are some of the most creative people out there! I think the only reason there are so few accessible caches is because COs don’t use the full capacity of their imaginations! I challenge all prolific COs to decide that accessibility and inclusion are important to them and to get creative to make at least one of their caches wheelchair accessible. There are so few caches that are wheelchair accessible. I’d love to see HQ develop a contest to increase access and challenge COs to place a cache that is wheelchair accessible within a certain time frame or something.

The best way to do so is to find a friend who uses a wheelchair, introduce them to geocaching, and ask for their help in designing a cache. Or, after you’ve created a cache, double-check that it truly is wheelchair accessible by asking someone in a wheelchair to try and retrieve it. Oftentimes we’ll see impediments that COs who walk often won’t see. If you don’t have a friend who uses a wheelchair and really want to make sure your existing cache is accessible, grab a folding chair, place it near the cache, sit in it, and see if you can retrieve the cache while seated in the folding chair.

If you want to make a new, wheelchair-accessible cache, take a folding chair to a location you’re interested in placing a cache, sit in it, and consider, “What could I reach from this chair?” It’s not perfect, but it will give you a general idea. It’s also important to note that many wheelchair users differ depending on the type of chair they use, their ability to lean and reach, etc. So just because a cache is accessible for one wheelchair user doesn’t mean it’s 100% accessible for all wheelchair users.
I’d also recommend coming back at a couple of different times of the day because sometimes things like parked cars that only show up at certain times of the day will block access, and if you’ve only been there once, you won’t realize it.

Tiffany squeezes between two parked cars to find a geocache.

Do you have any advice for geocachers who have accessibility needs?

Preparing ahead of time can be key. If you can reach out to cache owners ahead of time and tell them what your access challenges are, you can eliminate some of the heartache of going after a cache only to realize it really isn’t accessible. Also, if you do go after a cache that is listed as accessible and it turns out it’s not, make sure you contact the cache owner, let them know why it wasn’t accessible for you, make suggestions for how it could be made accessible (if there is a way for it to be made accessible), and ask that they take down the accessible attribute until the situation is remedied.

You don’t just specialize in physical accessibility but also accessibility for neurodivergence; what are some things to consider for geocachers who are neurodivergent?

Wheelchair users aren’t a monolithic group, and people who are neurodiverse also aren’t. I think the best thing a CO can do is give an accurate description of the cache. If it’s in an urban environment with lots of noise, state that. If it requires getting dirty in the woods or if there are flashing lights nearby, state that.
Many people who are neurodiverse have some sensitivities to different types of sensory input. The more information a CO gives about their cache, the better equipped a person who is neurodiverse is to make a decision if that’s a good cache for them to choose to go after or not.

Tiffany finds the geocache after she squeezes between two parked cars.

What’s your favorite part about geocaching?

I like that it’s an activity in which our whole family can partake. I also love discovering new places that I would never have explored if not for geocaching.

Besides geocaching, what are some of your favorite activities?

I love spending time on the water, whether swimming or on a boat, or at the beach. I’m also very passionate about the arts and increasing access and equity in the arts. I have a consulting practice, Inclusive Arts OT, that works to increase access to the arts for all people.

Programs like Handicaching help to support Geocaching HQ in our goal to make the game as accessible as possible for players around the world. We urge cachers to keep ability in mind when placing geocaches and to continue using tools like Difficulty and Terrain ratings and attributes to indicate how accessible a cache might be.

Check out the Accessible Geocaching booklet or the accessibility section of our blog for more resources on finding accessible nature areas and tips on starting an inclusive geocaching group in your community. Let’s work together to keep geocaching fun for all players and continue to inspire outdoor activity while exploring your community!

Source: Geocaching

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