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Concern over lack of warning about flashing lights at events

People with epilepsy are asking to be informed in advance about the type of lighting at shows – so they don’t have to leave due to seizure risk.

IF YOU HAVE been to a large-scale music gig recently, you’ll know that the lighting plays a huge part in the show.

It helps to evoke atmosphere, transform dull venues into either intimate or cavernous places, and can change the mood in seconds.

But strobe lighting and fast, flashing lights can have a negative affect on some audience members – which is why venues are being encouraged to give attendees advance notice of the use of such lighting.

“I felt embarrassed I had to leave”

Niamh Hegarty from Cork has a mild form of epilepsy and loves going to gigs. However, being photosensitive, she would like more notice of the type of lighting used at events.

At one recent show, she only discovered when she got to the venue that strobe lighting was to be used. “I’ve been sick and have to be very careful and extra conscientious. I got to the gig and there was a sign by the merchandise stand saying ‘today’s gig will have strobe lighting throughout the show’,” she outlined.

“I thought I’d try and stay out of harm’s way,” she said. “But it got so intense, and the flickering got faster and faster, I started to feel dizzy and realised I had to get out of there. It was really impressive lighting, but it was unbearable to me.”

“I felt embarrassed I had to leave,” she recalled. “Afterwards I felt frustrated and maybe angry that there wasn’t notice.”

She pointed out that warning is given for music videos – recent Phoenix and Kanye West videos both contain warnings that they may affect people with photosensitive epilepsy.

(Don’t watch this video if you have photosensitive epilepsy)


She feels that especially bigger venues and bigger promoters should be advertising the fact that such lighting is being used, either on their website, or ticket sales website. “Even though 5 per cent of people with epilepsy are affected, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she pointed out, adding that people who suffer from migraines are also among those who can be photosensitive.

It’s just a matter of asking the tour manager what is the lighting for the show. I don’t think every venue in the country needs to do this but it is something they need to be more aware of.

“I’m never saying I won’t go to a show with strobes again – maybe I can chance it and take steps,” she said, suggesting that bigger venues, for example, could inform people on their websites where to stand where the lights are not so strong or glaring.

The key point for Hegarty is that getting to the venue and finding out about lighting after you’ve paid for the ticket “isn’t enough notice”.

“If someone does have a seizure at a gig, it’s what can happen when you have a seizure in a situation like that,” pointed out the Corkonian. “At larger venues you are surrounded by so many people there, everyone is having fun, drink is involved. The chances are you’re going to fall, you could hit your head, maybe get trampled on. It’s safety first.”

“It just has to be a little disclaimer – it wouldn’t take much time,” she pointed out. “It’s being that bit more considerate and raising awareness.”


Epilepsy in Ireland

Paul Sharkey, Training and Communications officer of Epilepsy Ireland, said that around 5 per cent of people with epilepsy are photosensitive. There are about 37,000 people in Ireland who have epilepsy.

It is a common myth that everyone with epilepsy is affected by photosensitivity.

It is not just strobe lights that affect people. Flashing images, or rapidly changing images can also pose a problem. Anything that reaches a speed of about 15 – 25 flashes per second can affect someone with photosensitivity.

Epilepsy Ireland had heard reports from people affected by rapidly changing scenes in films. Legally, TV news reports, for example have to give warning in advance about the use of flashing images if the footage has been recorded.

In some instances stage shows will have used special FX, rapid changes of light – there is possibly no warning about that. Nobody has bothered to check there is a danger. People with epilepsy will go in good faith to these events.

Sharkey pointed out that if strobe lighting is going to be used, it has to be mentioned, but some concerts feature rapid changes of lights, which can be as worrisome.

“From people contacting us I think a lot does fall through the cracks. There is a lack of awareness that it doesn’t have to be strobe lights.”

There is a hope that a set of guidelines could be brought in on the issue.

People’s sensitivity can vary – some may “go ahead and hope for best” whilst others would have to leave, said Sharkey. If people find themselves unexpectedly being bombarded with strobe or flashing lights without warning, the advice is to close their eyes and place both hands over them. “You may be able to avoid the risk of having a seizure,” said Sharkey.

He asks promoters and concert lighting staff to be aware that people with epilepsy will be attending their events, and some may be photosensitive. He also encourages them to look at the Harding guidelines on flashing images.

Epilepsy Ireland can be contacted through its website or on Twitter or Facebook.

Read: Epilepsy Ireland ‘extremely frustrated’ about drug substitution>

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