Accessible Photography

Photography is not only a great hobby it is a useful tool for recording or documenting and can also be an outlet for creative expression. From that last perspective photography sits firmly between Art and Technology. It allows the practitioner, the photographer to capture how they view the world in which they live. On the surface photography is objective, traditionally associated with evidence and realism but on closer inspection it can be completely subjective and expressive. The photographer may focus on the seemingly unimportant details that go unnoticed by others or maybe catch fleeting moments that would have otherwise been lost in time; either way where they choose to point the lens and when they choose to release the shutter will be unique to them. In this way photography is probably the most effective nonverbal means by which someone can communicate and tell others about themselves, their lives and how they see the world around them.

Click here to go straight to the Sony DSC QX10 solution

Switch Accessible Cameras

Historically the range of cameras available to those with limited upper body mobility or dexterity difficulties has been small to non-existent with the notable exception of the Switch Adapted Digital Camera supplied by QED or RJ Cooper. Both of these solutions are adapted mainstream digital cameras that allowed the shutter to be released by activating a standard switch. Although limited in a photographic sense (no zoom or settings control, just shutter release) they were both fantastic products because they opened up the world of photography to a whole section of the community for the first time in its history. These options are still available from suppliers like Inclusive Technology or Liberator and although the technology has moved on and there are what many would consider much better options (in terms of greater control, see below) these still have a place for a couple of reasons. The main advantage would be its simplicity, in terms of set up but also in terms of the cognitive load required to operate. Once connected and turned on the user just needs to activate the switch and it takes a photo. Another advantage is that the camera can be used as a normal “point and shoot” digital camera because the adaptation it a self-contained switch connection unit. That said however many will find the price prohibitively expensive (costing up to €350 for what it is a budget camera worth about €100 and a switch interface). If the funds are not available and you are any way handy (or know someone who is) then you should look into a DIY approach. Most digital cameras will have a remote shutter release, either wired or wireless that can be bought as an accessory and it is often a relatively simple job to adapt these so that they are switch accessible (good instructable on switch adapting).

Remote Viewfinder – iOS Switch Control and Android Joystick Access

Technology is evolving fast in every area but probably nowhere as fast as it is in consumer electronics. It’s an arms race between the big brand names with each company vying to be first to market with the hot new feature that will give their product an edge. Whatever your views on this, you cannot deny that every now and again they stumble upon something that is genuinely useful even if it is not useful in the way it was originally intended. The feature of interest to us here is the ability to use a smartphone or tablet (with the appropriate app installed) as a remote viewfinder and controller for a digital camera. Most of the major brands (Sony, Canon and Samsung) now offer reasonably affordable (sub €200) cameras that are Wi-Fi enabled. If the camera has Wi-Fi there is a good chance that it will also offer a Remote Live View feature (please don’t take this for granted and check before handing over your money).

Here and in the accompanying video we take a look at the Sony DSC-QX10 and its companion app PlayMemories available on Android and iOS. The Sony DSC-QX10 is what Sony are calling a lens style camera. By this they mean that it looks like a lens but is in fact a complete digital camera. The idea is that once paired with a smartphone or tablet with the PlayMemories app installed the smartphone becomes the viewfinder and controls of the camera. Although this is unarguably a clever and original idea, since its release about 6 months ago it has received mixed reviews. However if any of those reviewers had a physical disability that prevented them either grasping, lifting or holding a regular camera or perhaps dexterity issues that prevented them operating the fiddly controls found on modern “point and shoots” then maybe they would have given the DSC-QX10 a much warmer reception. Maybe even a round of applause!


I am assuming that if a person has difficulty accomplishing a task such as taking a photograph with a standard camera due to a physical disability they are also a power wheelchair user. Therefore the first thing we must do is securely mount the camera on the user’s powerchair. The DSC-QX10 has a standard thread screw mount ( 1/4-20 or 1/4″ diameter, 20 threads per inch) on its base for attaching to a tripod. We can use this to mount it to the powerchair arm (or wherever works best) using something like a Manfrotto Variable Friction Arm , Gooseneck mount, RAM Mount or even GorillaPod. Once mounted at the height and position required they can use their chair controls to frame the shot.  If the user has the ability to operate a touch screen device like an iPad this can be mounted in front of them where they can easily view and access it (like on their tray for example).

Switch Control

Switch users can use this solution also through the Switch Control Accessibility feature in iOS 7 or above. Switch Control works really well with PlayMemories. Using Item scanning or Manual selection all the functions are recognised and scanned (in photo mode not in video mode) however fine focusing is not possible when in Program mode (this would only be of concern to more advanced users). As mentioned however Item Scanning does not work in Video mode, it will automatically switch to point scanning when you change to video capture mode (probably because the buttons in video mode aren’t marked up properly).  Because switching between scanning modes could cause confusion or difficulty and because of the ability to fine focus in program mode I would recommend using point scanning if at all possible (see video).

Android and Joystick Control

Android switch users won’t have Switch Control (because it is an iOS accessibility feature) but they can probably use ClicktoPhone or Tecla to access PlayMemories and take photos (we have not tested this yet). One big advantage that Android has over iOS however is for Joystick users. Many people with limited mobility use a joystick to drive their chair. There are also many powerchair controllers that can double as Mouse movers. The second half of the video is for this user group. In it we show the Playmemories App installed on a Samsung Galaxy Tab and through it the Sony DSC-QX10 being controlled by a joystick.

Are you interested in photography?

If this has fired up your interest in photography have a look at some of the links below.

Irish Camera Clubs  or International list of Camera Clubs – Joining a Camera Club is a great way to meet like-minded people and improve your photography. This list should help point you to a club in your area.

Disabled Photographers – Great site and active forum although full membership (£10 for 1 year) is only available to UK residents.

Virtual Photo Walks – utilises modern web technologies to allow photographers bring people with significant disabilities or those who are very ill on virtual photography tours. They use a smartphone to communicate on a Google + Hangout and talk through the photographs they are taking, explaining the reasons for their choice of shot. The person with the disability can also suggest/shots for the photographer to take, the photographer being a surrogate of sorts. There is a nice blog post explaining the origin of the idea here and the Google + page is here.

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