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The back-story: My father-in-law, who was an active film SLR user earlier in his life, suffered a series of strokes several years ago. He lost most of his ability to speak, and cannot use his right side (he has no fine motor skills at all in his right hand), and has limited mobility as a result. He's confined to a wheelchair, but gets around his care facility just fine. Despite the communication barrier, he manages to get across the gist of what he's after most of the time (and while he can't speak, he's a Marine, so he can still swear at you ;-).

What we're after: We'd like to help him be able to shoot the world around him again. He lives in a facility with plenty of accessible indoor and outdoor spaces, and he has free roam of the place each day. A great environment for capturing unexpected surprises in photographs.

The constraints we're working with: His wife visits regularly and can take care of processing (transferring to computer, printing, etc), but isn't strongly tech or photo savvy, so any solution has to take her skill level into account. He'll have difficulty using anything without a simple user interface; half-presses of the shutter might be a problem, a viewfinder (rather than an LCD) may pose a problem, and it must be operable with his left hand. Also, due to his environment, the ability to easily clean (or even better, seal) the unit would be helpful. Finally, as anyone who has a loved one in a care facility knows, theft can sometimes be an issue, so this needs to be something he can take with him in his chair; bulky solutions will end up being left behind and "misplaced".

So, with that in mind:

  1. Can anyone recommend a camera manufacturer that caters to lefties, or even better, specifically to the handicapped? Cost is a consideration, but a low one; we're much more interested in finding something that meets his needs.
  2. If anyone has specific experience with this kind of situation or equipment use case, can you share how it went for you? What worked, what didn't, things that would have been good to know?
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7  
+1 for a very well written question. –  Reid Jul 19 '10 at 3:37
3  
It amazing the shots someone can get from a wheelchair, as most people ignore wheelchair users. You can take a wheelchair a lot of places you will never get away with a normal tripod. –  Ian Jul 29 '10 at 9:15
    
I feel as though I should follow up to this, as the question has been receiving more activity lately, and everyone was so quick to offer help when I asked. Unfortunately, his mobility took a very rapid turn for the worse shortly after I posted this, and three weeks ago, he passed away peacefully. So, sadly, we were never able to act on the wonderful suggestions made here. Still, I think the situation I mentioned in this post covers a few fairly common disability scenarios, so perhaps it can be of value to others. –  esm Jun 10 '11 at 4:56

8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

What level of tech savvy is available for setup? You could tether the SLR to a laptop or netbook and write a script which uses speech recognition to trip the shutter. (For sealing, you could add a "keyboard condom" (e.g.) or just cover the whole laptop in plastic.)

Another option would be a remote shutter release, either wired or wireless. Maybe you can find one he can activate by biting, or rig it somehow as foot pedal (can he use his left foot?).

Another thing that could be helpful is rigging a monopod with a ball head to his wheelchair. That could help with support and stabilization even if you don't tighten down the head.

Finally, on a personal note: good on you for doing this. Both of my grandfathers had strokes and spent the last years of their lives in a similar situation, so I know it's rough. Good luck!

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3  
A complicated initial setup wouldn't be a problem, but the netbook is probably a non-starter for a few unrelated reasons (not the least of which is concern about theft). The idea of solidly mounting something to the chair is very interesting; a pistol-grip ball head might actually be perfect for this situation, and rather than adapting a monopod, I should be able to fabricate a clamping mount myself. I'll need to take a closer look at his chair the next time I see him to see if we can do it without interfering with both his movement and his caretakers' ability to work with him. Thanks! –  esm Jul 19 '10 at 2:59

A monopod (similar to a tripod but on a pole) mounted to the wheelchair and remote control can be used easily not only for those who have had a stroke but also for those with upper limb difficulties

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In addition to what's already mentioned, you might look into underwater housings for cameras. Those tend to provide enlarged controls for use while wearing gloves, which may be easier for him to manipulate as compared to standard camera controls.

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I know this is late in game but you can look at enablingdevices.com they have switches and mounts that may be useful to you if you have not already found a solution. I work with disabled individuals to make art and take photos and get some of my equipment from the above site. Good luck !

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Hi goldie, and welcome. Late answers are awesome if they are good. That site looks interesting — can you point out some of the specific stuff you use? –  mattdm Jun 9 '11 at 1:35

Hiya, a group who may be able to help are Photographers with Disabilities their website can be found at www.photographerswithdisabilities.com they have a forum which is open to the public, why not ask your question there as well.

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I have no experience of this, but the following comes to mind...

Perhaps you can rig up some kind of camera support attached to the chair?
If the camera had a flip-up display, you could position it near his lap, or even over to the left side (can he tilt/swivel his head easily?).

Attach a cable release which can be taped to the left arm of the chair (or just hand held), and I would have thought you should have a workable soltion?

I hope you find a good solution. Please give your father-in-law my best wishes.

EDIT

appologies - I hadn't read the accepted answer closely - this is pretty much a duplicate (can't see how to delete it???)

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You delete answers by clicking "delete" underneath your answer, but surely there's no reason not to have this; it's similar to the accepted answer, but not identical. –  neilfein Jun 9 '11 at 2:40

I've heard of the Disabled Photographers' Society, which is a group that provides support in regards to photography to the disabled in the UK.

I'm not sure if there is a similar group in the US, but they might be able to point you in the right direction.

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Thanks for that; as you mentioned, we're in the U.S., but it's an excellent place to start! –  esm Jul 19 '10 at 1:09

Although I don't have any real-life experience with this I've heard that some people use a small Point & Shoot camera up side down. They can then press the shutter with their left thumb.

Perhaps the Casio EX-G1 is suitable. It is shock- and water proof.

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We considered that, but his right hand just isn't usable, which means he'd have to support the weight of the camera by his left thumb, the same one that's under the shutter, which will likely mean a lot of accidental shots. He's already a bit shaky in general, so I'm afraid we'd be pushing the limits of his dexterity with an arrangement like this. –  esm Jul 19 '10 at 1:17

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