Kids design camera for teen videographer born without arms

Posted at 2:29 PM, Aug 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-28 20:42:18-04

Haley Horn is an independent, media savvy teen from rural Metter, Georgia, with well-defined dreams for her future. She wants to be an actress, and perhaps sing. She likes to record herself, and dub her own voice over her favorite anime characters. She enthuses about the strides she’s made already.

“I actually did write a script a couple of months ago for doing voices of the anime ‘Kuroshitsuji,’ or ‘Black Butler,’ characters and making videos,” said Haley, 13. “I can edit them and switch into different voices for different characters.”

Her passions revolve around video media, the expressive vehicle of her generation, and she wants to use a camera to combine all of these things.

There’s just one problem: Because she was born without arms, Haley can’t hold a camera.

This summer, a group of advocates and young people came together to learn new skills and erase that obstacle in the way of Haley’s dreams.

Challenge accepted

This summer, Haley met Susanna Spiccia, the founder of re:imagine/ATL, a nonprofit that teaches kids video production skills to encourage cooperation, empathy and friendship.

Spiccia invited Haley to participate in The Green Room, a summer camp in Atlanta that teaches set building, design and video shooting and editing. As part of the camp, professional musicians cut a track of music with the young people as they learn production skills.

“The kids learn to make a music video. They do the full video production process to their song that they created,” said Spiccia, 28.

But first, they had to find a way for Haley to operate a camera on her own.

“It was very hard at my last camp to be able to actually make a video with a small camera since I never actually used a camera before,” Haley said.

An initial attempt by Spiccia to collaborate with a few fiddly, inventive friends on a camera rig didn’t pan out. It was too heavy. So she got in touch with her friends at STE(A)M Truck, a mobile maker program on wheels that pairs kids with technology and art professionals.

“Do you think the (STE(A)M Truck) kids could come up with something, so that it’s kids helping kids versus adults doing that?” Spiccia asked. “I’d much rather have a kid’s idea versus an adult’s idea.”

The organizers around STE(A)M said yes.

Kids helping kids

Creating a camera that Haley could operate became a STE(A)M Truck assignment for young people at the Harland Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta.

The team brainstormed several ideas they could make with the tools they have on hand. The STE(A)M truck includes a 3D printer, laser cutters and soldering stations. Some students had experience with the truck’s tools, but others were trying them for the first time.

“I enjoy witnessing a student come in on day one with no idea of what we’re talking about, then seeing them use a chop saw or utilize a computer to program a banana to play a piano on day three,” said Kris Pilcher, 33, an artist-in-residence with STE(A)M Truck.

A head cam wouldn’t work for Haley, nor would a wheelchair camera they dreamed up. Finally, the team came up with a shoulder-mounted camera design to help the budding videographer.

They tried to make the shouldercam fit Haley’s physiology. The device rests on her right shoulder, fitted with padding for more comfort. It includes a brand new Sony camera, and controls that Haley can use with her feet. It is bedazzled over a custom yellow and purple paint job.

“It felt great,” said Janiyah Favors, 13, a “star pupil” who had experience with STE(A)M Truck and helped to design Haley’s camera. “It felt nice to help Haley with her dream.”

Successful shooting

In July, Pilcher and Janiyah presented the shouldercam to Haley at the re:imagine/ATL Green Room camp. She used it throughout that week, and some of her shots are included in her group’s final music video, in which she and her teammates act out a spooky nightmare in colorful costumes and face paint.

Haley and her family are now back in Metter, but she held on to her shouldercam, and is looking forward to using her new skills as the family prepares to move into a new home.

“She has a lot of ideas that she’s going to put into action as soon as we get moved, and her room set up,” said Sharon Horn, Haley’s mother. “She wants to make a music video about our new home.”

It’s a big step, but one Haley can now take on her own.