What's Your Story? Junior Reporters' Takeaways Taking Photos with a Camera Regardless of Visual Impairment. All About the Screen Reader and Enlarge Screen Functions Realized Through the Passionate Efforts of Sony Employees.

安部さん、鈴木さん、畠中さんがソファーに並んで座る集合写真。鈴木さんはフルサイズミラーレス一眼カメラ『α7C II』を持っている。

From left to right: Yurika Abe, Junya Suzuki, and Fumikazu Hatanaka. Junya is holding the α7C II full-frame interchangeable lens camera, which has built-in Screen Reader and Enlarge Screen functions.

In October 2023, Sony released the α7C II full-frame interchangeable lens camera. This is the first camera to feature a Screen Reader function that assists in using the camera by reading out menus and other on-screen text, as well as an Enlarge Screen function*, both of which we have been working on since 2021*.

The Screen Reader and Enlarge Screen functions were developed by the members led by Fumikazu Hatanaka within the α camera development team. These functions were realized through many discussions with Junya Suzuki, a Sony employee with a visual impairment who is an avid photographer.

Yurika Abe, who is in charge of PR for sustainability at Sony, will unveil behind the scenes of the development to find out how this unprecedented example of inclusive manufacturing was made possible through the passionate efforts of Sony employees.


Asking the questions!

Yurika Abe

Corporate PR Dept., Corporate Communications Division, Sony Corp.

Joined Sony in 2023. Yurika is in charge of external public relations, mainly in the area of sustainability. On her days off, she often sets out with an α camera in hand, and enjoys taking photos of the scenery of travel destinations she visits, as well as food, another one of her passions.


Providing the answers!

Fumikazu Hatanaka

Platform Dept.3, Software Technology Div.3, System Software Technology Center, Sony Corp.

Fumikazu is responsible for the UI/UX of cameras and other products, services, and apps in the imaging sector. On his days off, he enjoys going fishing and cooking.


Junya Suzuki

Interaction Technology Development Dept.2, Interaction Technology Research & Development Div., Technology Development Laboratories, Sony Corp.

Junya is developing 3D sound interaction technology to make life more enjoyable and convenient. His hobby is writing stories while enjoying baroque music.

Meeting Junya Suzuki, a blind camera enthusiast


Yurika: First of all, please tell us how the two of you met. How did you get to hear about each other?

Fumikazu:When Sony started working on accessibility around 2018-2019, assistive functions were also being considered for the cameras that I was in charge of.

However, cameras are products that rely on vision. There was also a preconception that people with visual impairments do not use cameras, and so I was concerned that it would create a strong doubt, with people questioning why we would develop such features if we weren't sure that they would be used.

At that time, one of my colleagues told me of a blind employee working at Sony who is a passionate photographer.

Junya: I was interviewed for a company video on accessibility training. Consequently, Fumikazu came to meet with me, and I told him about the inconveniences of using a camera. About a month later, he came back and said, "I think I'm going to add Screen Reader functionality to the α."


Fumikazu: I remember that when I first met Junya, he suddenly spun round to face me even though I hadn't said anything yet. It surprised me, and I thought, "He has heightened senses, just like in a manga!" (laughs).


Junya: I'm somehow able to tell from sounds and the sensation of someone's presence (laughs).

Yurika: How do you usually use your camera?

Junya: For me, a camera is a communication tool. When I'm talking to people, I'm able to discern their facial expressions from their tone of voice, so I'll snap a shot when I think they sound happy, for instance. I also take photos of objects that I think are interesting after touching them with my hands.

Photographed by Junya Suzuki
Photographed by Junya Suzuki

I show the photos I take to everyone, and we enjoy them together. Even if I can't personally see, if I show people photos that I've taken on vacation and they tell me what's in the photos, then it leads to new discoveries for me.

My visual impairment is not congenital, and I was able to see until I was 12 years old, so I still have memories of what things look like. I also have ideas about the kind of photographic compositions I want to take, so I take lots of photos with a digital camera and ask my family and friends, “How's this one?” and then they tell me things like “This one's nice” or “The subject's a little out of frame,” and I feel like I'm getting closer to the kind of photos I want to take based on their comments.

Photographed by Junya Suzuki
Photographed by Junya Suzuki

Yurika: You've captured the cat within the frame! The hydrangea is also nicely in frame, and the bright color of the flowers is reminiscent of the beginning of the rainy season.


Junya demonstrated how he takes photos

Junya: This is how I use the camera, but I'm sure people with low vision (someone with a visual acuity less than 0.3 even when wearing glasses or contact lenses) are able to enjoy it in a different way. For example, with a landscape shot, if you take a picture in the direction that you want to look at and view it later on a computer monitor, then it can serve as a magnifying glass.

You might be wondering why I use a camera even though I can't see, but I would argue that, precisely because I can't see, it feels like the act of taking photographs becomes part of my visual experience.

That's why I was overjoyed the first time Fumikazu demonstrated an actual camera equipped with Screen Reader functionality. I also remember being incredibly happy that Fumikazu was working on it so passionately.

The two embarked on the endeavor together. What struggles did they encounter along the way?

Yurika: In the α series of cameras, the α7C II and α7CR have an accessibility section in the menu from where you can select Screen Reader and Enlarge Screen. These functions, especially the ability to read out menus and other on-screen text, are things that you wouldn't normally associate with a camera. I heard that you faced a lot of challenges in trying to develop and include these functions.


Fumikazu: That's true, I think one of the biggest difficulties was actually in taking the first step.

On the technical side of things, the issue was how to load such a vast amount of audio data onto the camera, since we would need to supply menu text strings in 10 languages. If it's online, there are platforms that you can use to convert text into speech, but since the camera is not constantly connected to the internet, you need to prepare all the audio data in advance.

Therefore, I decided to use audio compression technology, and that's when I saw the light. Currently, this feature is available in 10 languages, but we will need even more space for data as we add support for all languages.

Junya: Wow, that really was a big first step.


Fumikazu: Product development is conducted by a large number of people, so literally hundreds of people have tried and tested the prototype. The demonstration with Junya, in which everyone was able to observe the camera talking, had quite an impact. Gradually, step by step, I was able to get people to understand what we wanted to make.

Yurika: Fumikazu, what did you find most helpful about having Junya's support?

Fumikazu: I think what was most helpful was his cooperative attitude. He is positive whatever the situation. Even when the software was still at an early stage of development, he was like, "Let me try it! Let me try it!" (laughs).

Junya: Hahaha!

Fumikazu: Usually, people tend to be a bit more hesitant, but it was Junya himself asking me, "Is it done yet?", for which I was extremely grateful.

After all, user opinion is the most important thing for us as developers. I think that even if we had been able to arrive at the same finished product ourselves, having Junya's input as a user made it more significant.


Junya: I'm really glad to hear that. I gave feedback as necessary, considering aspects like what would make operation smoother and in what order information should be presented.

When a user is involved in accessibility, they are often asked to look at the finished product. However, through my interactions with Fumikazu, I truly felt that we were working on it together from the development phase.

Overcoming accessibility obstacles through inclusive design

Fumikazu: In the inclusive design approach that we adopted for the development of these features, there is the idea that developing the product together with users will result in a product that more people will appreciate.

Our team has demonstrated this concept. Many people, myself included, suffer from age-related longsightedness, and simply, "It's great to be able to enlarge menu screens," or "This Screen Reader option is a nice feature." Designing with people with disabilities in mind is simply a springboard to creating a product with outstanding features for everybody.

α7C IIの画面が「音声読み上げなどのアクセシビリティ機能を設定しますか?」という質問と「設定する、今はしない」という選択肢を表示していて、設定するのボタンがセレクトされている

Yurika: Since joining Sony, I've heard the term "inclusive design" in various places.

My eyesight may grow worse over time, and even now I sometimes feel that the writing on my smartphone screen or camera display is a bit small and difficult to read. Therefore, working in tandem with users and getting their input in the pursuit of accessibility is something that benefits everyone, so it truly is a worthwhile endeavor.

Accessibility catalyzes creators. What is Sony's vision for the future?

Yurika: Junya, has the way you enjoy photography changed with the addition of accessibility features to α series cameras?


Junya: I feel that the fun of using a camera has doubled or tripled. In the past, when I wanted to adjust the shutter speed, all I could do was turn the dial and hope for the best. But now, I can listen to the camera announcing the actual value, like 1/125 second, 1/500 second, and so on. I've become able to take the kind of photos that I intended to.

Fumikazu: Through getting to know Junya, my team and I have become firm in the conviction that anyone can enjoy taking photos with a camera regardless of any visual impairment, but I think that preconceptions like "this product cannot be used by this type of person" or "this feature is irrelevant" remain in other areas besides cameras.

Sony wants to get closer to creators, and in order to do so, it is important to create an environment in which people want to become creators. If people want to exercise their creativity, and they are in an environment that enables them to do so, then the number of creators will increase.

I view accessibility as making more creators.

Aging is a pressing concern in every type of industry, but if you have functions that can read on-screen text aloud and enlarge menu screens, then people who find it difficult to see things on the screens of electronic devices due to age-related longsightedness can continue to use your products.


Junya: I hope that accessibility features like the ones now found in α series cameras will spread beyond being just for people with disabilities, and come to be useful for people who can see as well.

I suspect people with visual impairments have preconceptions about cameras themselves, assuming that they can't use one because they are unable to see. By bringing the α series of cameras to people harboring such notions, I hope that they, too, can realize the joy of expanding their means of communication, just like I have. I imagine a future in which more and more people with visual impairments are able to become photo and video creators thanks to α cameras expanding the possibilities of visual experience.


Yurika's takeaways

・Think in your own terms

What interested me about the Screen Reader and Enlarge Screen functions in the α series cameras is that the project started not solely for people who are limited in some way, but with a focus on the fact that anybody may potentially face limitations, either temporarily or in the future. In my work in PR, I often interact with colleagues from different departments, organizations, regions, and even countries. What I took away from the conversation between the two was the importance of understanding people's position and circumstances and working toward a goal decided on through close communication with the other party. That process is something that I want to implement in my own work.

・Don't take things for granted

When I learned that Junya enjoys using a camera as an everyday communication tool with the people around him, I realized that I had been narrowminded in my belief that people with visual impairments don't use cameras. It's only been six months since I joined the company, but I have already observed that there are a lot of employees at Sony who spend their time thinking up new things that one wouldn't be able to imagine if held back by stereotype, so every day is fresh and exciting. A case in point is the Screen Reader function that was born from the dialogue between Fumikazu and Junya, and I've heard that they have embarked on the next challenge to realize the ambition that they both share. This made me realize that the kind of innovation that can change the world stems from not taking things for granted. I also want to meet more people and get to know their ambitions, and become a Sony employee who takes on challenges and attempts that have not been done before.

・Bringing entertainment to all

The part of the interview that particularly impressed me is that Junya said that his range of communication with those around him has expanded dramatically since encountering the α series camera, and that his enjoyment of taking photos has increased many times over. Speaking on the sequence of events from the development stage to getting the functions included in the camera, Fumikazu mentioned that they were able to succeed because although hundreds of people were involved with the development, each individual understood the importance of what they were doing, and so I really feel that it is a product that has had a lot of passion poured into it. In my role in PR, I strongly feel the desire to let people know that accessibility considerations in Sony’s products will continue to evolve, and thereby bring enjoyment to as many people as possible and fill the world with emotion.

*The Screen Reader and Enlarge Screen functions are currently only available on selected models. Different sales regions support different languages.

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