Canadian’s Ingenuity Broadens Horizon of Shutterbugs With Disabilities

By Misty Harris, Postmedia News March 7, 2012 10:14 AM

Corey FiskHaving viewed her world through a veritable pinhole for so long, it’s no wonder C. Corey Fisk — a bedbound paraplegic — is so drawn to photography.

Until recently, the California shutterbug’s subjects were limited to two oak trees, a fence, some grass and a couple of birdfeeders — that which she could see out the sliding glass doors of her room. But thanks to a Canadian man’s ingenuity, Fisk’s lens is now as wide as the globe itself.

Virtual photo walks, founded by Ontario’s John Butterill, allow people with disabilities to remotely participate in photo-shoots around the world. With a little technical wizardry, they can see the complete landscape, as well as the camera’s viewfinder image, and thusly direct the photographer to capture the shots they want.

“For people who literally can’t leave their bed, the power — and the empowerment — that comes with this is incredible,” says Fisk, whose severe mobility restrictions are due to multiple sclerosis. “I’m not the most, shall we say, soft and sentimental person. But I was basically in tears (after my first session) . . . It was immensely moving.”

Using the tagline “walk the walk for those who can’t,” virtual photo walks were founded in February on the social networking site Google+. During a video “hangout” with a fellow photographer, Butterill realized that by making a few adaptations, he could tie the functionality of his iPhone to his DSLR camera (details are explained on the Virtual Photo Walks webpage).

He then tested his theory by taking Fisk on a photo tour of the Canadian winter — a particular thrill for the native New Englander, who after moving out West thought she’d never again see snow.

“I told her, ‘You’ll be able to see what I see; the camera lens and iPhone lens will match up, and you tell me what you want to shoot,'” says Butterill, 60. “They were her pictures. I was just the ears, legs and hands.”

Not long after, the Rosedale, Ont., man provided the same opportunity to an online acquaintance’s seven-year-old child, who was in the hospital for Crohn’s Colitis treatments. The boy’s father was so moved by his son’s experience that he recounted it in a poignant post on Google+.

“I read that and knew my life was changed forever,” recalls Butterill, who that morning began work on an official Virtual Photo Walks page, through which he now acts as a broker between people with disabilities and photographers willing to donate their time and bandwidth.

Frank Garufi Jr., who wrote the catalyst post, says there are no words for how much joy the “walk” brought his son on a day that would otherwise have been excruciating.

“He’s stuck with tubes and tests left and right, blood-pressure cuffs going off every 15 minutes, breathing monitors on him . . . It isn’t a very pleasant experience,” says Garufi, who lives in New Jersey. “But for that one hour, it was like nothing else was happening. He was totally engaged in what John was doing.”

Though the project is still in its infancy, Butterill already has heard from some 100 photographers willing to help. Recent and forthcoming locations include Hawaii, the Netherlands, Utah, Colorado, Germany, Italy and, of course, Canada.

Naomi Black, a member of Google’s accessibility engineering team, calls it a “very cool” example of how streaming online video is becoming a democratizing force for people with disabilities.

“If somebody’s on their webcam, sitting at a desk, you don’t know if they’re in a wheelchair. You don’t know if they have a compromised immune system,” says Black. “You’re not seeing their disability; you’re seeing the individual.”

To see the video, click here

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Reproduced from