Photography for Disabled People

Recently I received a letter from George asking me for recommendations for a camera that would be easy to use in light of his disability. My unorthodox approach to camera building has left me unqualified to give that kind of practical advice, so I thought maybe one of you could advise him better than I. Here is his letter, and any comments would be appreciated. Thanks, George for the letter, and I hope this generates some helpful suggestions!

Hello Adrian,

I am physically disabled and I am hoping there is a technical person who would please advise me if it is possible to put an external switch on a good quality compact digital camera. I have been searching for a number of years for a camera that I can operate independently. What I mean is, without me having to have somebody set up a tripod or fit an extendable arm on to my power drive wheelchair or have to engage in any other elaborate preparation just to take a photograph.

I am a quadriplegic, a spinal injury from a fall from a tree in 1963. I can hold the camera up and look through the viewfinder but cannot press the shutter release button. I prefer to use the standard viewfinder because I have more control with my arms that way. I have no finger movement or wrist movement. I can raise my arms some what but I do not have much strength in them and not all my arm muscles work.

I have taken photos in the past with a Ricoh film camera using the timer function. The timer switch was a little slider button that was raised above the body of the camera and I could click it on with my teeth. Once it was triggered, there was a 10 second delay and the camera took the shot automatically. That camera got water damage unfortunately.

Besides I want a good digital, maybe 7 megapixel + several optical zoom. Canon, Panasonic, Nikon, Olympus one of those brands. It does not have to be one of them I know there are many others. I do a little with Photoshop so a digital camera is easier for me to download images.

Using a timer switch is really not suitable. I want to be able to just pickup the camera and shoot. Of course a setting or two might need to be set but I will sort that out some way. A good name brand digital with automatic everything is what I want. I realise it will cost but that is to be expected.

I have corresponded with a couple of technical type people and received the following advice. “Look for a camera, which has an infrared remote control. Then you have a separate remote which controls the shutter release. You are likely to still need some help to open the camera, set it up, and wake it up if it has gone to sleep. Once it is set up and ready to go, you can take pictures independently by just pressing the switch to activate the shutter release.”

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to Technical Solutions. A company here in Australia that specializes in making electronic equipment especially toys for disabled children. Their reply was “I suggest that you find a camera that has a remote shutter release as an optional extra. These are usually the more expensive “professional” cameras. Make sure that it is an “electric” shutter release NOT a “mechanical” shutter release – hopefully the camera sales person will understand this! You should send me the camera specifications sheet before buying the camera and I will comment on its suitability. Then send us the camera with remote release cable, which we should be able to adapt for use with a sip/puff switch.”

The “professional” cameras that he is referring to, would they be Digital SLR’s? Do you know any models with an “electric” shutter release? Technical Solutions have a large rang of switches I could use beside a sip/puff. Maybe if the cable was very short a switch that I could bite on might work.

Now this is maybe a possibility. My only reservation is that the “professional” camera might be out of my price range and might be big & heavy. $500-600 Aust. $ would be my range maybe a bit more.

Do you have any suggestions? Is putting a switch on a good compact digital camera impossible? Maybe there is different way of being able to activate the shutter.

p.s. I saw the article about connecting a Nikon Coolpix 5000 with a Palm.

3 Responses to “Photography for Disabled People”

  1. Michael Kilfoy Says:


    I sincerely wish you well with finding a solution to your dilema. My father had muscular dystrophy and I tried to imagine what he might do to take a photo. One thing I might suggest is building an apparatus, like a small tripod, that would attach to the arm of your wheelchair. I have 2 digital cameras, an Olympus E20N and a Canon 5D, and I believe the back on the Olympus flips up, so it could be used like you would a viewfinder; you could look down at it and shoot. This would save you from having to put it up to your eye. It might be worth looking at.

    My Canon 5D uses infrared, but I’m not sure if it can be fired with it. I do know that you can set up flashes around a room and fire them from the camera. The Canon is an expensive camera and heavy, but they may have something similar that costs less.

    Anyway, I’ll try to find out more and get back with you. Take care and good luck.

    Michael Kilfoy

  2. Shawn Says:

    Wow, I myself am not an expert of this, but I’ll try to see what I can do. I have friends who are so good at camera building.

  3. Vince Monteforte Says:

    I am working with a spinal cord injured veteran who would like to pursue photography as a hobby. We would be interested in any adaptable equipment to allow this pursuit. He is in the market for a new digital SLR and would welcome recommendations on cameras and other equipment. He, too, is in a wheel chair with restricted hand strength and mobility. Some type of shutter release either electronic, infrared or air might work. Comments?

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