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How Do People with Vision Impairments . . . Take Selfies?

How I take selfies with my friends using assistive technology.

When one of my friends who has no usable vision came to visit Washington DC, we decided to figure how blind people take selfies, or rather how someone with low vision can take a selfie since it was my phone. It took several tries and I hit my friend with the phone a few times by mistake, but since then we have figured out how to take group selfies with blindness and low vision. In honor of National Selfie Day, here are my tips for how people with vision impairments take selfies.

Background information

For anybody who might be a bit confused, I use the word selfie to refer to pictures taking with the front facing camera of a smartphone, tablet, or computer. While many of these tips can be applied towards taking a picture of someone with a vision impairment, the focus is on having people take photos independently with their respective device.

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First, position the camera

Whenever I take a selfie, I like to extend my arm outwards and slightly above eye level so that I can get a good view of everything on the screen. Some of my other friends prefer to have the camera be lower or to set it on a stand so that they can look straight ahead at the camera. If we are taking a group selfie, I will ask whoever is taller to hold the phone so I can make sure no one accidentally gets cropped out of a picture.

Put your hands on the phone

When my friend came to visit me in DC, one of the techniques that helped us figure out a good angle was for both of us to have one hand on the back of my phone. It helped that we were both sitting down and that we were close in height so that the phone didn’t seem too far out of reach. Since our hands were on my phone, we were able to orient ourselves easily and look towards the camera.

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Count backwards from five

One of my friends has trouble focusing their eyes so will ask people to count backwards from five before taking a picture, so that they have time to focus their eyes towards the camera. Otherwise, their eyes will appear to be out of focus and it appears they aren’t paying attention to the camera, which is frustrating for them. Whenever my friend and I take pictures together, I make sure to count backwards from five and show them where the camera is positioned.

Have an audio cue to focus on

One of my other friends has their phone play a beeping sound so that they can focus on the direction from where the sound is coming from before taking a picture. This is a built in function to their camera app, and it’s especially helpful when taking pictures with multiple people so everyone can track the sound. It may not work well in noisy environments though where it is harder to track audio.

Use a screen reader such as TalkBack or VoiceOver

I have an Android phone and enjoy using TalkBack to help me take pictures so I can figure out how many people are in a picture and what they look like. For example, when my friend and I were getting ready to take a selfie with TalkBack, we received information that there were two faces looking happy that took up 60% of the screen, and that this was a good selfie photo. That was really helpful feedback for us, since it was hard to tell if my friend was accidentally cropping one of us out of the photo.

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Take photos with an app such as Seeing AI

I love to use the free Seeing AI app for a lot of things, including taking photos. While I may not take pictures with my iPad very often (since Seeing AI is not on Android), it’s helpful to be able to get a description of a photo shortly after taking it, and then saving it to the camera roll. When I took a selfie with the “Person” feature, Seeing AI provided me information about my age, hair color, glasses, and my facial expression, as well as how far away I was from the camera. I thought it was really interesting how the app was able to process so much information within a few seconds. There are other apps similar to Seeing AI that act as a talking camera for the blind, but I have not tested them.

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Glasses or no glasses? Cane or no cane?

One of the questions my friend asked me was if they should take off their sunglasses and put their cane on the ground before we decided to take a picture together. I told them that it was up to them, since I didn’t want them to feel like they had to alter their appearance for a photo. I always wear my tinted glasses in photos and tend to keep my cane in my hand so I don’t trip over it, but there are times where I will put it on the ground behind me or collapse it and hold it behind my back in a group photo. If I am taking a selfie in a location where I normally wouldn’t have my cane, I won’t grab my cane specifically for the photo.

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Final thoughts

I love taking pictures with my friends and family, and I cherish all of the selfies I have taken with them over the years. While not every selfie may be perfect, the quality of my pictures have definitely improved as more companies incorporate assistive technology and accessibility into their products to help people with vision impairments. I hope these tips help you to take an awesome selfie!

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,
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