2018 Jun 18

This weekend the movie Incredibles 2 opened at number one at the box office, giving it the top spot for the best opening weekend for an animated movie ever. The first one was great, so this one must be even better!

Unfortunately, I can't see it.

A CBC article was released June 18th warning that the movie contains several scenes of flashing lights which can trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. I'm one of the estimated 250,000 Canadians with this condition. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, photosensitive epilepsy is the most common form of "Reflex epilepsy" which means it's triggered by certain stimuli. In this case, flickering, or flashing lights.

I discovered I had this condition in my teens when I had a seizure at a High School dance where the DJ was using a strobe light for effect. Several specialist appointments, EEGs (Electroencephalogram), and MRIs (Magnetic resonance imaging) later and it was determined I have photosensitive epilepsy. I still vividly remember the test where they placed a strobe light over my face, increasing its intensity every few seconds. I remember seeing mixed-up memories in my head, and finally, a quick image of my childhood friend's backyard before the strobe light shut off. The test had detected I was about to have a seizure and shut itself down before it happened. That moment was just as scary as it was coming to on the gym floor at my High School in a daze after my seizure. While medication is available, the Doctors decided that the best form of treatment for me was to just avoid flashing or flickering light, such as that in Incredibles 2.

All of us could have a seizure from intense, flashing or flickering light, but some of us just have a lower threshold.

It's happened before in media where this threshold can be crossed. Heck, the Simpsons even made a joke about it in the episode where they visit Japan and turn the TV to "Battling Seizure Robots." This is a reference to the 1997 "Dennō Senshi Porygon" episode of Pokémon which caused 685 viewers to have photosensitive epileptic seizures or the "Pokémon Shock." This isn't limited to these occurrences either. Read the inside cover of a video game case (yes, I know, "You buy physical copies?!"), there will likely be a general warning. I've never seen the movies Castaway or The Perfect Storm out of an abundance of caution.

Screen capture from The Simpsons episode where they watch a Japanese TV show that causes seizures

The web industry has guidelines for this. Should all industries?

Part of the reason why I'm an advocate for, and interested in, web accessibility is due to my own condition. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 contain two Success Criteria about photosensitive epilepsy, "2.3.1 Three Flashes or Below Threshold (Level A)" and "2.3.2 Three Flashes (Level AAA)." The authors of WCAG 2.0 write that these exist to "...allow users to access the full content of a site without inducing seizures due to photosensitivity.

It's very easy to meet (or even exceed) these guidelines in your web content. Ideally, just avoid flashing or flickering content altogether. Not only does it mean someone with my condition can consume your content without worry, but it can also help people with vestibular disorders (e.g. Vertigo) be more comfortable as well.

Is it time for movies and TV to be more inclusive? Could the desired effects in the Incredibles 2 have been achieved while staying within a safer range? I applaud the Epilepsy Foundation for publicly asking Disney to post warnings on all its digital properties. I'm hoping all theatres will follow suit.

If you're interested in further discussing Accessibility issues, I'm always happy to chat! Get in touch.