We fight to improve the lives
of everyone affected by epilepsy

Photosensitive epilepsy and digital design – advice for content creators

People with photosensitive epilepsy may have seizures triggered by displays that flicker, flash, or blink. This is particularly the case if the flash has a high intensity and is within certain frequency ranges. Online, this often relates to the use of animated GIFs and videos.

What are the guidelines for producing safe content for people with photosensitive epilepsy?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the international standards organisation for the internet. Their accessibility guidelines recommend that web content does not:

  • Contain anything that flashes more than 3 times in any 1 second period or
  • Flash below the general flash and red flash thresholds

They also suggest:

  • Reducing contrast for any flashing content
  • Avoiding fully saturated reds for any flashing content
  • Reducing the number of flashes even if they do not violate thresholds
  • Providing a way to stop any flashing content before it begins
  • Slowing down live material to avoid rapid flashes (as in flashbulbs)
  • Freezing the image momentarily if there are 3 flashes in 1 second
  • Dropping the contrast ratio if there are 3 flashes in 1 second
  • Allowing users to set a custom flash rate limit

If the user is not able to control the flickering, blinking and moving (this includes stopping the content from starting), then the effects should not be used.

Am I breaking the law by producing flashing content?

In many countries, such as the UK, it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people. This includes people with epilepsy.

If your content breaks the W3C good practice guide (above), then you should consider if there is a valid reason for it to do so. If there isn’t then you should edit your content to make sure it meets the W3C guidelines.

If you’re in the UK and you’re producing content for marketing or advertising, you must follow the Advertising Standards Authority rules.

If you're in the UK and you are working in the public sector, then you need to make sure that your content complies with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

The UK’s disability discrimination laws led to British TV regulators producing the ‘Guidance Note for Licensees on Flashing Images and Regular Patterns in Television’. Many online producers use their guidelines to check their content.

I have produced some content that flashes. Should I give a warning to users?

If you feel there's a good reason why your content should break the W3C guidelines, then we strongly urge you to give a warning before the flashing starts. For example, on a video, the warning should be before the user starts to play the video.

If you don’t alert people with photosensitive epilepsy to flashing and someone has a seizure as a result of your content, you may be breaking the law.

Code: 
F079.04

This information is exempt under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated July 2020
    To be reviewed July 2023

Comments: read the 2 comments or add yours

Comments

You say you cannot find any Official Guidance on the flash rate. Strange as HSE's website refers in its Events Guidance to the NHS website which in turn refers to your guidance as if it were being treated as the "official" guidance!? Perhaps you might lean upon HSE to produce guidance on the flash rate. As far as I can remember, it's 20 years ago, we did have a Guidance Note on this subject during the 1990s that gave a rate between which lights were not to flash. Perhaps subsequent events proved that advice was inadequate. I was surprised that there was no Official guidance.

Submitted by Stuart on

Dear Stuart

 

Thank you for your comment. We have forwarded this to our information team for them to check out.

 

Regards

 

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane - Epileps... on

Subscribe to the e-action newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest news on coronavirus, epilepsy news and events, and how you can get involved.

Epilepsy Action will never swap, share or sell your details. For more information, read our privacy policy.
By clicking subscribe you agree to our privacy policy.