The iPhone Geocaching app is a great tool for the geocacher and Groundspeak have obviously put a lot of effort into ensuring that it integrates with the accessibility features of the phone. So often app developers ignore Apple’s guidelines on labelling elements correctly so that they work properly with the voiceover function. Whilst the app is not perfect it does enable a blind person to make use of a lot of its functions to improve their involvement in the geocaching experience. There are two main failings of the app as I see it. The first is when you view a list of caches with voiceover on it tends to make the phone unresponsive. My theory for this is that because the list contains GPS data that is being updated so often that voiceover is just not able to keep up and things grind to a halt. The map view works fine for selecting caches although the ordering of the results this way is a little unpredictable when flicking through them. I do intend to contact Ground speak about this as if it were fixed then it would make the selection of caches so much easier.
But this is not the main focus of this blog entry. The other frustrating thing as a blind person when using the app is the lack of direction when actually navigating to a cache. The distance to ground zero is reported, but there is only a visual representation of the direction to travel and no audio or speech guidance at all. This is not a bug of the Groundspeak app as such, it is just a shortcoming that has obviously never been raised before. This is most likely because there are so few blind and visually impaired people geocaching that it just doesn’t come up. The net result has been that my experience of geocaching has been that I cannot guide our team to gz with any sort of accuracy because I can only count down the distance to the cache and not give any indication of which direction we should be travelling in. It has been my quest to try and find something to aid me in find the caches and I think I may have just found the mother-load as it were.
Ariadne GPS (www.ariadnegps.eu)has been designed from the ground up for blind and visually impaired people. It is a straightforward tool that allows you to gain information about your location from the GPS and reference it using the Google map service. Its primary objective has been to aid street navigation but it has the ability to add waypoints using a longitude and latitude and then reports the distance and direction to that waypoint. How does this help me? Well if I add a cache as a favourite into the app then it will tell me how far away it is and also indicate to me in what direction. It does this either by angle e.g. “Cache1 is 800 metres away 25 degrees to the right”. Alternatively it can report the direction according to the clock face. For example it can tell you that “Cache 1 is 800 metres at 2 o’clock”. The app is also clever enough to know whether you are moving or standing still and reports the direction in different ways. So if you are moving then it uses the GPS to determine the direction you are moving and therefore which way you need to turn. If you are not moving then it uses the internal compass and turning the phone this way and that causes the desired direction to change. This is perfect, because when you are on the move you do not want to have to hold your phone straight out in front of you and this allows you to position it how you like or even clip it to your belt as the actual orientation of the phone does not matter. When you stop you need to hold the phone with the home button towards you and then move it, or rotate yourself to find the desired direction of travel.
When you are walking the app can report to you the distance to your chosen favourite periodically without you doing anything if you leave voiceover focussed on the “nearest favourite field”. This means that as you walk towards ground zero you will be prompted every so often the distance and desired direction . This is exactly what I have been searching for and will, I hope, make the experience of navigating to the cache one that I, as a blind person, can feel much more a part of. I have installed the app at a cost of £3.99 and added a few local caches as favourites and I am itching to get out and try it.