You wouldn’t expect Luis Perez to be an amateur photographer.
Perez, a higher education learning consultant in Florida, has retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that essentially gives him tunnel vision. He only has about seven degrees of total vision, and his condition could progress to the point where he’s completely blind. Even with his limited vision, Perez is already considered legally blind.
But he’s still able to take photos like the ones you see below with his iPhone and share them on Instagram:
Perez makes this happen with a setting called VoiceOver, a setting built into all Apple devices that makes Perez’s iPhone almost as functional for him as it is for a sighted person.
Apple first introduced VoiceOver in the Mac operating system OS X Tiger about 10 years ago. Back then, it would have cost a visually impaired user hundreds of dollars to bring similar accessibility settings to a PC. But it’s been a standard, free feature in Macs ever since, even if the majority of Mac users never use it or know it exists.
In 2009, VoiceOver came to the iPhone for the first time in the iPhone 3GS and has been included in all Apple products — even the Apple Watch — ever since.
The concept behind VoiceOver is pretty simple: Make it so visually impaired users can do everything on Apple devices that a sighted person can do. That may not sound like a big deal on a traditional desktop or laptop where you can feel your way around with a mouse and keyboard. But iPhones and iPads are controlled almost entirely through a touchscreen, which is nearly impossible to use if you’re visually impaired.
In June, The American Foundation for the Blind gave Apple a Helen Keller Achievement Award for its work including VoiceOver in all of its products.
With VoiceOver enabled on an iPhone and iPad, a digital voice narrates almost every move you make. You can swipe around the home screen to highlight certain apps, and then tap anywhere on the screen when the voice says you’ve highlighted the app, menu item, etc. you want.
VoiceOver has helped Perez discover his calling as an amateur iPhone photographer. VoiceOver can use facial recognition to let him know who’s in the frame and give cues like how many people are in the shot. With stills and landscapes, Perez told Tech Insider he likes taking lots of shots so he can go back to his Mac or iPad later and pick the best photo of the bunch.
It’s not just Apple apps and software that work with VoiceOver and all the other accessibility options in iOS devices. When developers get the software from Apple that lets them make iPhone and iPad apps, they also get tools to add similar options to their own apps.
The developers behind the productivity app Workflow did just that. When the app first launched, Workflow didn’t have any accessibility options. But after listening to user feedback following the launch, the developers decided to add VoiceOver and Apple’s other accessibility settings in a new version that launched a few months later, Ari Weinstein, one of the app’s developers, told Tech Insider.
In June, the development team behind Workflow won an Apple Design Award at Apple’s annual developers conference because of how it used accessibility options in the app. Workflow requires a lot of dragging and dropping, something that’s easy enough for sighted users but can be especially challenging for the visually impaired. Now Weinstein says there’s nothing visually impaired Workflow users can’t do in the app thanks to VoiceOver.
“For the vast majority of apps, a visually impaired person can do basically anything other users can,” Weinstein said, referring to VoiceOver controls. “And if they can’t, then there’s a way [for developers] to reimagine how to get it done.”
Here are some members of Apple’s accessibility engineering team, Dean Hudson and Ryan Dou, giving a demo of the Workflow app following its Apple Design Award win:
There are several other apps that take advantage of the accessibility features, and Apple has many of them highlighted in a new section of the App Store.
That’s the same concept behind Perez’s iPhone photography. Even though he might not be able to see all his photos as well as others can, he said he does it to prove a point. It’s unexpected for someone with his condition to be a photographer, and publishing his photos on Instagram helps raise awareness. It’s something he couldn’t do until the iPhone came around.
“A lot assume if you have a visual impairment you don’t want to take photos,” Perez said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to capture memories just like anyone else.”