Flashies: A Saga of the Photosensitive

      Anyone close to me has now acquired an extra sense, the spidey sense of disability (I know, being friends with me comes with some real perks!). For many who don’t have a disability or are exposed to people with disabilities (PWDs) there are MANY things that get picked up by your senses and determined unimportant by your attention and fly under your radar… and therefore most of you never think about this stuff. Today’s post is a rant about all those things you probably never thought about/ thought mattered in hope that someday, somewhere, it will be useful knowledge to you. I’m going to break it down into categories for your organizational pleasure: (or just so you can skip to the stuff you might care about haha) physical accessibility, sensory processing, and photosensitivity/flashing lights.

Physical Accessibility

    This is probably the most on-your-radar one but still very important. First, PSA, if I hear one more person say,  “xyz is accessible except a few steps” I will hulk smash. In terms of physical accessiblity, stairs are a no. Doesn’t matter how many. Just no. Love, every person who uses a mobility device. Just saying… and in case you don’t think this happens… it happens all the time. 
yeah. thanks dave.
     *I know physical accessibility is not limited to just wheelchair users but we would be here forever, so I’m just talking wheelchairs for now*
       Okay, it is Friday night and you want to have some fun. If you use a wheelchair your spidey senses are tingling. Things that go through your head:

  • does that restaurant have stairs?
  • do I remember if their bathroom is accessible?
  • does public transit go there? can my wheelchair fit in Smithy’s car?
  • is the place maneuverable? (particularly small places, clothing store racks are hell)
  • what is the height of the tables?
    Other places:
  • is there a ramp?
  • will I be able to reach things? (shelves in grocery stores, bookstores)
  • will I be able to carry what I buy?
  • can I get there?
(video as a parody response to the Rio Paralympics Promo Video)

Sensory Processing

    Aight so this one most of you probably don’t have as much exposure to, except maybe if you know someone with autism. It is not something you can see, and at least for me personally, not something I talk about a whole lot if ever. There are a whole lot of sensory related issues and often come comorbid to conditions like Autism, EDS, Down Syndrome, Chiari, and Schizophrenia etc. One condition associated with this that I have is called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD formerly Sensory Integration Disorder) and is very similar to how it sounds. Basically, my brain has trouble processing and evaluating sensory information such as light, touch, sound, taste, proprioception (where your body is in space), vestibular and motor control, etc. I divide it into two stages: input and processing. 
With SPD:
  • sensory information coming in can be converted to extremes (under processing or over processing)
  • people can experience heightened vision but depressed sense of taste
  • can lead to overstimulation which is when all the input from the environment you are in becomes too overwhelming and starts to become incomprehensible 
    • This video does a good job of trying to represent overstimulation (cw: changing lights and sounds) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plPNhooUUuc
    • Source (good article on SPD)
    • For me, even having two different people talking at the same time makes it hard for me to understand the person I am talking to and I use a lot of context clues and lip reading to try and help my brain figure it out
  • people can be sensory seeking or sensory avoidant or both
    • sensory seeking is like it sounds, seeking out input that is comforting (weighted blanket, soft fabric, hugs, running water)
    • sensory avoidant is like it sounds, avoiding input that is too extreme or not liked (textures of food, tags on clothing, bright lights, strong perfumes)
  • looks different for everyone
  • things that you don’t notice or can ignore may overwhelm us or we are unable to filter it out  (i.e. buzzing of florescent lights, fans on laptops, tapping of pencils)
    For me, I am extremely sensitive to light (see next section) and have a mix of levels on other senses. I had no idea everyone didn’t see the world like this until I got to college and learned about it in class. It is hard to describe what it is like in writing, but the video comes pretty close. For me places like the movies, grocery stores, classrooms, hospitals and shopping malls are overwhelming due to all the noises, types of lights, tile floors, people, smells, and unpredictability. New places are also anxiety provoking because I don’t know if they will be too overwhelming. 

Flashing Lights/ Photosensitivity

      Flashing lights are everywhere. I guarantee you you can think of some examples, I also guarantee you can’t think of 2/3 of them unless you’ve spent enough time around me. For me, flashing lights (and loud noises and extreme emotions) trigger seizure like episodes (thanks Long QT). For others, flashies can trigger seizures, migraines, fainting spells, nausea, disorientation, and more. Some flashies are unavoidable unless you are Thor (thanks bro for the lighting and thunder combo…really helpful), a movie producer, or a video game designer, but many are/ are able to put less risk in situations for people like me. Fun fact: in video game ratings in America they have to list strobe scenes in the rating but movies, concerts, plays, amusement parks, escape rooms etc do not. 
this bloody scene
For funzies let’s go through some examples of flashies:
  • lightning
  • lightning in movies
  • fire effing alarms (seriously I will come teach you how to make popcorn)
  • camera flashes
  • camera flashes in movies
  • sirens
  • strobe lights in plays, concerts, movies, rides, clubs etc
  • quick scene changes (lumped in because can have same effect)
  • explosions
  • gunfire in movies
  • lightsabers (and lightsabers in movies)
  • damn apple accessiblity feature where the camera light flashes when you get a notification 
  • did I mention camera flashes?
  • 70% of the last 5 Harry Potter movies
So what? Expect me to just have shitty dark pictures of my kid’s birthday in a gloomy restaurant?
Well yeah, if you don’t mind…
          Just kidding. As with most of these things, unavoidable is unavoidable. But here’s what you can do: opt to turn your flash off when not needed or try to aim the flash away from randos, ask before taking flash pictures in groups, take a mental picture, don’t burn popcorn, give warnings if you are directing plays, post signs, note time stamps in movies if watching with a sensitive friend so you can warn them, turn off that damn feature unless you need it because your deaf of HoH, and of course, be courteous and aware of your surroundings. It can be awkward and impossible for some to assert themselves in situations like this, so if they do please don’t give them shit. It was probably hard for them to do. 
Phew. You better feel more edjamakated now. Julie out.