Hi orienteers. Here’s a plea from a partially sighted runner. I’d like to be able to orienteer well.
This means reading the map ahead of where I am, not just running into the area and making the map fit when I get there. A coach once gave me this advice: Be a “that’s where I’m going” orienteer, not a “that’s where I’ve been”.
Reduction of Eyesight with Age
My eyesight is a quarter of what it once was. It’s not just me but most people my age (75). A study by the Swedish Orienteering Federation using actual orienteering maps shows (left) the degradation of vision with age, it’s a widespread thing called presbyopia.
If you don’t understand graphs, use this recipe. Find say 70 on the horizontal (age) scale. Follow the line up to the red and blue lines. The blue dot (20%) and the red dot (25%) enclose 95% of 70-year-olds in the test. So the vast majority have a “visual performance” between 20 and 25%. That’s a quarter of youthful eyesight. Glasses and magnifiers help a little, but in some circumstances (rain, sweat, dappled light) they make it worse.
Who are our Maps Designed For?
Our maps follow the international orienteering specifications. These specify things like scale, size of the symbols, the smallest patches of colour, and minimum gaps. Orienteers being what we are, we put in as much as will fit. In fact clubs delight in seeking out the most feature-filled terrains. How often do you see event promotion featuring the words “detailed” and “intricate”?
Now these specifications are written for international competition, i.e. people in the prime of life😊 Its not surprising that 75-year-olds have difficulty. In fact eyesight has been degrading through life, though it doesn’t usually become noticeable until our 40’s. We older orienteers like detailed terrain too, after all it gives us a chance to use our skill and experience. Provided we can SEE the detail.
Clearly, partially sighted orienteers are going to have a problem with maps designed for the fully sighted.
Larger Scales for Old and Young
Fortunately there’s a solution. With current technology we can simply print larger. The ONZ Mapping Committee has boiled it down to a simple rule of thumb:
Whatever scale the elites need, enlarge at least to 133% from age 40, and to 150% from 60. (It also includes kids, but for a different reason. When the symbols are not well known, size helps recognition.)
Luckily older and younger courses aren’t as long as elite. But even if a bigger map is required, that’s a small price to pay. Refer to the objective of the map. I want to be a “that’s where I’m going” orienteer.
These recommendations have been incorporated in the ONZ Rules. Sort of. Table 15.2 gives the “normal scales” for various event types and age groups. And some alternative scales “where the complexity or simplicity of the terrain justify them”. Larger scales “can” be provided.
Does It Happen?
The trouble is, it isn’t always done.
- Example of a championship – last year’s Pokapu Sprint Champs. Everyone at Taradale got the elite scale of 1:4000
- Example of a local event – last weeks afterwork sprint around parliament. No classes; just choose your course length. All maps, 1:4000.
Example of an In-between event – Waitangi Weekend 2023 around Christchurch. No classes except elite, and course colours for the rest. The sprints were ALL at the elite scale 1:4000. And the red forest courses were at the same scale as the elites. Were M75’s not welcome?
Sprints are particular sore points, with the importance of barriers, and short races won by seconds. At 1:4000 I can’t see whether tiny gaps have a thin line (merely an edge), a medium line (crossable obstacle) or a thick line (no go).
But forest events are also held in detailed terrain. Sand dunes are a particular favourite where the mental picture is hard to acquire in advance. No streams to indicate “down”. Often I feel I am “flying blind” and finding a control comes down to luck. Yet controllers agonise over the slim chance that a dog-leg will help the following runner!!
Club events without age classes are obviously a problem. If a single scale is going to be provided, what is it? Do you disenfranchise the older orienteer? But there’s no excuse for championships. Section 15.2 says the controller must act as an advocate for the competitors, but please consider this: How can a fully sighted controller judge what the partially sighted can see?
Conclusion – and An Offer
Bottom line – 25% visual performance, even 50% is surely “partially sighted”. I’m still capable of orienteering, please don’t put me on the scrapheap.
Two things planners and controllers can do. Read Section 15.2 of the rules – it’s just been updated. And whatever scale you deem necessary for elites, provide enlargements for the rest of us.
Michael Wood has held the ONZ roles of Coaching Director, Technical Convenor and Mapping Convenor. He makes maps. Contact him at michael (dot) wood (at) mapsport.co.nz