Working with Michael 1: Wheelchairs, Cameras and Protest Marches

So Michael B. came to UArts on Sun Sep 4 to work with Joe and me. It’s a bit of a big deal for him to get all the transportation arranged to do this. He also had to bring his son Luke and his attendant Butch.

Butch, Luke, Michael and Joe at UArts (L to R)

Michael loves to take photographs and is going to Washington D.C. in a few weeks to protest for disability rights. He says they will march to the White House. He says laughing that they go expecting to get arrested, but I’m not sure just how much he is kidding. The march is a National Action by a group called Adapt. He would love to be able to photograph the march from his wheelchair, offering a first person point of view of the protest. Unfortunately, Michael had a stroke and so does not have much use of the right side of his body. So he cannot drive his wheelchair and take a photo at the same time as he has to keep his left hand on the throttle/joystick of his wheelchair at all times. So our challenge is to help him figure out a way to accomplish this. Yikes…

We started by just asking him to handle the camera so we could understand that a little better. In the photos below you can see how awkward this is for him. First, the camera is designed for right handed people and he is now left-handed. He cannot reach across the camera body to touch the zoom nor the shutter release button.

Fingers can’t reach all the way across

As he struggles to use the camera he blocks the lens in one position, gets into some really awkward hand positions and then finds a way to use the camera but only with it turned sideways.

reaching the button …  but blocking the lens
awkward!   plus he can’t see the screen
The only way …  is sideways 

So we began discussions to get his input on where he would want the camera to be,how he would use it, and other needs. For one thing he has to be able to get the camera out of his way to get in and out of the chair. We then begin dismantling his chair and measuring spacing around his body.

dismantling chair

establishing clearances

After a few hours in the shop we have something roughed out.

The beginning of the first mockup

Meanwhile Joe has been working on the programming for the Arduino.

First mockup of the electronics

The notion is that we will use a switch to actuate a servo motor that will rotate an arm down onto the camera and press the shutter release button. This is very ambitious and we don’t have much time to actually make it work.

Fingers crossed …

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