When I was in high school, I sometimes had difficulty explaining how common technology behaviors or other technology in the classroom would hurt my brain, also known as give me a migraine. Many teachers assumed that I was refusing to participate in class, but the reality is that these actions would give me a neurological reaction that would make participating or even thinking extremely difficult or impossible. Here are five common classroom tech behaviors that hurt my brain, and that can hurt the brains of other students with visual or neurological impairments.
Intense animations/transitions in presentations
Have you ever watched a slideshow presentation that made you feel like you were on a rollercoaster or like you were being hit in the head? For me, intense animations or transitions in presentations can make me feel exactly like that, giving me vertigo or other eye pain. Having a single image quickly move across the page, spinning effects, or flickering effects can all cause an adverse reaction.
How to fix it
- Use minimal or subtle animations or image effects when designing presentations
- Have the individual play the presentation on their own device so they can turn off animations or be the one to control them so that the transitions aren’t unexpected
- Alert people before playing an animation or moving to the next slide
Leaving projectors on a bright background
When I attended a conference recently, the presenter chose to project a blank white screen on the projector and leave it on for 45 minutes. I’ve also had teachers leave their projectors on a bright blue background when not in use. This was very disorienting since the display was so bright, and there was no reason for the screen to be on. It can also contribute to migraines or visual fatigue.
How to fix it
- Turn off the projector when not in use
- If the projector must be left on, ensure that it is in a well-lit room
- Use dark colored backgrounds when projecting information to help minimize eyestrain if possible
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Turning a projector on without warning
Whenever someone turned on the projector in my high school band class, the display would rapidly flicker and jump around as it warmed up, or change brightness quickly. This was a common occurrence in my other classes as well, and turning on the projector without warning could cause me to have a photosensitive reaction as the flashing could mimic strobe lights.
How to fix it
- Warn people before turning on/off the projector
- If possible, turn on a projector before others enter the room
- Make sure all cords are plugged into the projector correctly
Flickering fluorescent lights
I jokingly tell people that fluorescent lights are one of the greatest enemies of my photosensitive migraines, since they can frequently flicker and cause me to become disoriented due to a migraine. I recognize that these lights can’t be removed or replaced in every setting, but there are ways to minimize their effect for people who have photosensitivity.
Ways to fix it
- File work orders for fixing fluorescent lights, and mention that the room is accessed by someone with photosensitivity. This means that the repair is considered a high priority
- Use other lighting alternatives such as lamps if possible
- Wear tinted glasses to help with brightness
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Lots of background noise
Having a large amount of background noise from electronics can dramatically affect how I concentrate, since I rely on my ears more often than my eyes. Many teachers have noted that I would zone out in noisy rooms or have trouble concentrating, or that the background noise would annoy me more if I had a higher pain level that day.
Ways to fix it
- Wear earplugs or headphones that can help muffle the noise
- Sit away from major noise sources such as vents or hallways
- Turn off electronics when not in use, as they may emit a low amount of noise
I’m rarely the only person in the room who is sensitive to light or sound, as many other people with identified and unidentified sensory sensitivities experience the same issues I do. After sharing these common technology behaviors that hurt my brain with another teacher, they were happy to learn how to make the classroom a better place for all students and ensure that all students were able to easily concentrate on the task at hand. I hope that this post helps people who are wondering how to help support those with visual or neurological issues and that it provides reassurance to others that they aren’t the only ones who experience issues with these things!