Zoom and HSBC have developed an accessibility feature that stops users from viewing potentially seizure-triggering content.
The feature became available earlier this month and has been launched globally. All users can now go into their settings and select ‘Dim Screen Share Video’.
Employee Joanne Austin raised concerns with HSBC during the pandemic following an increased use of Zoom.
She said there were two instances when colleagues shared content that included flashing patterns over Zoom and she narrowly avoided having seizures.
Joanne was first diagnosed with epilepsy 22 years ago. She has spent her career working for banks, and for the past six years she has worked for HSBC where she is currently compliance assurance manager.
She said: “I often have to protect myself from digital technologies that can trigger my epilepsy. During the pandemic, you had to use digital video communications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet to do your job. Everyone was doing quizzes via Zoom to introduce some fun into all the seriousness of what was happening.
“On one of these calls a colleague shared a game on Zoom that had moving pictures. That’s one of my triggers. Out of nowhere, that set me off – unlike the auras or a funny taste in the mouth that others have to warn them, I don’t get any warning. The wrong moving images come up on the screen and I end up on the floor.”
Although Joanne doesn’t have photosensitive epilepsy, she finds that repeating image patterns can be a trigger – especially if she is feeling tired or unwell.
“In the past, I’ve thought: ‘This is my condition – I’ve got to get on with it’. But then a month or so later I was asked to review some marketing for our HSBC Ability Network, of which I’m co-chair. And the patterns in that work set me off too.”
Luckily, Joanne’s husband was with her and was able to turn off the screen before a seizure began. She decided something had to be done, fearing there might be other people suffering in silence.
“Even in disability and accessibility circles, people with epilepsy tend to get forgotten. I thought: ‘This isn’t just me now – we need to sort this.’ I am aware that, as I have clusters and have previously been in status epilepticus with my seizures, not taking action could put me or someone else in hospital or worse.”
HSBC’s accessibility team got to work.
“They immediately jumped into action to prevent these things happening again. The team got settings changed in my browser to turn off images automatically on websites. They gave me software to help work around my condition and reviewed all the HSBC screen savers that had been created and got rid of all those that could trigger seizures and migraines,” said Joanne.
Then HSBC contacted Zoom to see what it could do. As a result, the two companies developed a safety mechanism to recognise flashing images, which are turned off and the screen is dimmed. HSBC’s accessibility team tested the function under lots of conditions to make sure it would work at home and in the office.
Joanne said: “Zoom is now accessible and safe for others with epilepsy. Migraine sufferers have said it may help them too. I’m so proud that me and my employer had a hand in making this happen. By speaking up for change that benefits all.”
You can see a video about the making of the accessibility feature at: www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7004744560182444032/
More on Photosensitive epilepsy and online content
If this story has you wondering about the guidelines for making/sharing safe content for people with photosensitive epilepsy, click the link below.