Could your Online Content Cause Seizures?
January 14th 2016 | By Sarah McInerney
It is nothing unusual to see or hear a notice on a television broadcast warning of upcoming flashing images. As most viewers are aware, flickering, flashing and strobing effects can cause photosensitive seizures.
The law surrounding when such notices are required is governed by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) under CAP (4.7) and BCAP (4.6) which state that ‘marketers must take particular care not to include in their marketing communications visual effects or techniques that are likely to adversely affect members of the public with photosensitive epilepsy’. Annex 1 of Ofcom’s Guidance Note also applies.
In the event of a complaint, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) takes advice from the technical specialists at Ofcom where it has cause for concern. Advertisers are required to make sure their advertisements have passed a Harding Flash and Pattern Analyser (FPA) Test.
Flashing Image Risks: It’s not just TV
Of course, flashing images are not limited to television adverts: they have the potential to appear within online video, and on websites and blogs with animated banners and other types of adverts that contain some form of movement.
Whilst the ASA has received complaints about flashing images in non-broadcast media, they have not yet upheld any. The fact is however, the risks are the same for online content as with broadcast advertising, and the advice from CAP is that any non-broadcast advertisers intending to use flashing imagery should review the rules and Ofcom guidance and have their content Harding FPA tested if they are in any doubt whatsoever as to its compliance.
About Photosensitive Epilepsy
Epilepsy affects 1 in 131 people, and of these up to 5 per cent have photosensitive epilepsy. Consider it like this: for every 20,000 visitors to your website or blog, around 8 of them could potentially suffer a convulsive seizure as a result of seeing a flashing or animated advert, or red flashing text on your site.
Online Content: Safety Guidelines
The guidelines that apply to ensuring the safety of online content for those with photosensitive epilepsy come under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Guideline 2.3 states that content should not be designed in a way that is known to cause seizures, i.e. content must not flash more than three times per second.
Don’t forget that you have a responsibility not only to the online content that you yourself produce or own, but to that which you elect to share. So for example, if you publish a blog post and embed a related video shared from a third party channel, you will need to take care to ensure it does not breach the guidelines: not just for compliance sake, but for the confidence of your visitors.