No Strobing Items At Check-Out

My mom and I were walking to the check out area at a popular chain retailer when suddenly, it seemed like strobe lights popped out of nowhere. The store was selling rapidly strobing fidget spinners, which were all flashing asynchronously, and at a high frequency, each spinner with a red, blue, and green light. I went to stand away from the display while my mom checked out. I was glad she was there, because otherwise I would have had to leave the store, due to my sensitivity to flashing lights.

I didn’t say anything to the cashier, or ask to speak to the manager about the giant strobing display. My head was already hurting, and I knew it was likely a decision from corporate, not the individual store, so there was nothing they could do about it. Still, I was surprised to see that someone had decided the best place for a rapidly strobing item was at a place where customers couldn’t avoid it. Red and blue lights are one of the most common triggers for adverse responses to flashing lights- an episode of Pokemon flashed red and blue lights in a similar frequency and hospitalized hundreds of children with seizures many years ago. There are many medical conditions that can be aggravated by strobe lights- besides seizures and epilepsy, there’s also migraines, PTSD, and anxiety, to name a few.

I am not demanding that the store stop selling this product, as I’m sure it is very profitable given the increase in fidget toys, which help people with attentional conditions, autism, and anxiety, as well as people without these conditions. I would just like to request that the product be moved to another area of the store, and have a small sign warning customers of the strobe lighting. Having this item in an area where it can’t be avoided is a medical crisis waiting to happen.

If you encounter a strobing display similar to this, do not get angry at the cashier or other employee at the store, as it was likely not their idea. It is more effective to send feedback directly to corporate. Below, I have attached a sample message I sent to the store I visited:

Dear Company,

I went to visit your store today, and discovered there was a display right next to the check-out counter that was selling rapidly strobing fidget spinners. Had I gone to the store alone, I would have had to leave and not be able to purchase my items. Strobe lights are a medical trigger for me, as I have chronic migraines, and there are many other people who can be affected by rapidly strobing displays. If possible, please consider move this display out of a high-volume area and having a sign warning guests of the rapidly strobing lights.

Thank you,


While some people do enjoy strobe lights, there are many others who can have very adverse reactions or just be downright annoyed. While I’m not looking to outlaw all strobe lights, I do hope that companies will remember their guests with light sensitivities and keep flashing products away from popular areas.

Visiting the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum

Living right outside of Washington DC means that I am just a short Metro ride away from visiting one of the coolest places in the United States.  Some of my favorite places to visit are the Smithsonian museums, which have free admission and are amazingly accessible to people with disabilities.  I’ve decided to put together a guide to the many different Smithsonian museums and their accessibility for guests with special needs, with a special emphasis on low vision.  So without further ado, here is my guide to visiting the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum with low vision.

Getting inside

These two museums are in the same building and are a bit farther away than the other Smithsonians.  After getting off at the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop on the Metro, visitors can access the museum through the 9th Street exit.  There are several entrances into the museum, some with low stairs to climb.  The handicap/stairs free entrance can be found facing G street.

Exhibit Guides

Large print and Braille exhibit guides are available for visitors who request them.  For travelling exhibits, the large print guide can often be found hanging on the wall next to the entrance.  These guides have the statements that accompany each of the portraits written out in accessible text.


The staircases throughout the museum are winding and spiral shaped, and can be difficult to walk with a cane.  There are also very small cramped staircases to access upper level exhibits in the National Portrait Gallery.  All exhibits can be accessed by elevators found throughout the museum.

In the indoor courtyard area, where the Courtyard Cafe is located, there are fountains on the ground that are very easy to walk into.  They aren’t deep (it’s like someone spilled water on the floor in terms of depth), but I’ve walked into them nearly every time I’ve visited the area.

Flashing lights

The Electronic Superhighway exhibit is a map of the United States that contains flashing videos featuring different characteristics of the United States, as well as red, white, and blue flashing lights.  Some travelling exhibits may also use strobing effects- check with the front desk about specific exhibits.  The last time I went, there was a moving pictures exhibit that featured lots of strobing effects- I had my friend check the exhibit beforehand for flashing lights, and I just waited in another hallway away from the lights.

Sensory friendly

Compared to the other Smithsonian museums, this one is very quiet and has lots of places to sit down and relax.  There are no loud noises or excessive amounts of stimuli in the permanent exhibits- travelling exhibits may vary.

Accessible tours

Audio tours are available for many exhibits.  In addition, America InSight tours are for guests who are blind or have low vision and are offered at least twice a month for visitors.  They do not cover the entire museum, rather go in depth about certain exhibits.  Check out the schedule here.

High-resolution images

High-resolution images of the different pieces in the gallery can be found on their website.  This is only for permanent exhibits, though.  I would recommend viewing these images on a larger device such as an iPad, instead of on a phone.

My favorite exhibits

My favorite exhibits at the museum are the 20th Century Americans and Contemporary Art.  The 20th Century Americans exhibit is awesome, as there are a lot of familiar faces (the photo of Buddy Holly inspired this post here).  The Contemporary Art exhibit is very colorful and has many different mediums of art that go beyond simple oil on canvas.  Just a warning on the Contemporary Art exhibit- it can be very easy to accidentally set off a security alarm with a blindness cane, if the cane crosses any of the lines on the floor.


I love visiting this museum, and consider it one of my favorite Smithsonians.  That says a lot about how accessible Smithsonian museums are for people with low vision, because even though there is a high emphasis on visual art, I don’t feel left out at all because of my low vision.  I highly recommend visiting!


Photosensitivity in the Classroom

This post is dedicated to Mr. S, who will never see a flashing light or a light switch the same way again.

In November 2011, two months into my freshman year of high school, I began getting chronic migraines, with one of the triggers being visual disturbances like flashing lights- not hallucinating flashing lights, actually seeing lights flash.  This is commonly referred to as photosensitivity or photophobia. I went on medication to help this, but the medication ended up making me even more sensitive to flashing lights, in a similar way to photosensitive epilepsy/photosensitive seizures (this has since been resolved).  As a result, my teachers, friends, and I frequently were watching for possible flashing light triggers, prepared to prevent them from happening. Here are ten of the triggers we all learned to watch for in the classroom, and why. Please note that I was undiagnosed in high school and received my diagnosis of Chiari Malformation after I graduated.

Fluorescent lights

These lights often flicker for what appears to be no reason at all. Watch for lights that frequently flicker, and turn them off if possible, or move away from them. When putting in a work order to fix the lights, note that there is a student with a medical issue connected to flashing lights.

Light switch

Sometimes, teachers flicker the lights to get the attention of the students. My teachers would warn me before flickering the lights, as well as when they would turn the light switch on or off. One of my teachers got so used to this, they found themselves thinking to warn me before they turned off a light switch in their home (sorry, Mr. S!).

PowerPoint animations

PowerPoint animations can have flashing effects, or rapid movement across the screen. Some teachers disabled all of the PowerPoint animations for my class, which I really appreciated. Other teachers would give me copies of the PowerPoint so I could disable the animations myself.

Instrument tuners

While this will only be a problem in a band or other music class, instrument tuners tend to rapidly strobe, usually with red or green lights, to show if an instrument is in tune or not. For tuners with small LED lights, the person next to me would cover the lights with their thumbs, and watch to see if I was in tune.


Some projectors may flash or have a strobing effect as they turn on or adjust to the display. Warn the student ahead of time when a projector is being turned on, and wait until the display is stable to begin talking about what’s on the screen.

Flash photography

At school functions and when there were visitors in the classroom, my teachers would request no flash photography, as it can be harmful to the students. One of my teachers would go as far as to say a student had a medical condition triggered by flashing lights, but this wasn’t always necessary to disclose.  Here’s my rant on flash photography.


Before playing a video, check to see if there are any strobe or flashing lights. For one of my college classes, the teacher wrote down the time in the video that there were the flashing lights, and would warn all students thirty seconds before that there was going to be a flashing light. Another teacher wrote down the dialogue that would be said right before the light, and the dialogue directly after. For certain movies, the teachers would just send me out in the hallway to work on another assignment, saying there were too many flashing lights.


Computer routers in the classroom can have rapidly blinking blue, green, or red lights. Other classroom equipment, such as portable microphones, can have the same type of lights. My teachers would cover these lights with tape, removing and replacing the tape at the end of the week.

Fire alarms

I had a note in the nurse’s office that said I could be pulled ahead of time for fire drills. I would be called out of class about five minutes before, and went outside to sit with the nurse far away from the lights.  Here is how I handle fire alarms in college.

Mobile applications

Some mobile applications use strobe or flashing effects, and so can tools such as calculators. Check for flashing lights ahead of time, and find alternative applications if needed. Some applications use an “epilepsy mode” to disable flashing lights as well (Read more here about what makes an app accessible). Also, check to make sure the device being used is not filled with flashing lights- read more about my experiences with a strobing phone here.

Bonus- Substitute teachers

Make sure to remind substitute teachers, and write in the substitute plans, that there is a student that is sensitive to flashing lights.  I had a teacher write in bolded, 72 point font, at the bottom of the plans to not flicker the lights and to announce to the class when a projector or similar device was being turned on.  My fellow students were very protective of me and would frequently remind substitutes not to trigger any flashing lights.

While I have become less sensitive to flashing lights over time, my experiences with photosensitivity and photophobia gave me an increased awareness of how many flashing lights there are in the world. While I can’t assume all of the flashing lights will just disappear, or that people will stop using them so much, I always appreciate it when I have friends and teachers that can help me watch for these triggers, and help me avoid them completely when possible.

How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision

The iPad is considered one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 21st century, especially in terms of accessibility.  Personally, I have seen the amazing effects of having an iPad in the educational setting, at both the high school and college level.  It’s also been fantastic for making resources accessible, like digital textbooks.  However, before the iPad can be used by someone with low vision, it must be configured first.  Here are the settings I enable for the iPad/iPhone to help make the device possible to use for those who have low vision. All are found in the accessibility menu under general settings unless otherwise noted.  Altogether, it takes about ten minutes to enable all of the settings listed below


Zoom magnifies the entire screen and is great for using apps that have smaller font, such as ones for restaurants. It can be adjusted to window zoom while typing so that the entire screen isn’t distorted. Note that screenshots taken with zoom enabled will not display the zoomed in image, but the whole screen. Zoom can be activated after being turned on in settings by double tapping with three fingers


This is a built in magnifying glass with the device’s camera, and different than using the zoom function. It is activated by triple clicking the home button when enabled. This is super helpful when I am somewhere and can’t see small items.

Display Accommodations

Color Filter- This allows for a tint to allow users with different forms of color blindness to access their devices, but I personally use it to add a background tint to reduce blue light. I have it on a mild intensity and full hue.

Reduce White Point
– This makes whites on the screen less sharp and is extremely helpful for reducing glare. Mine is at 50%


Larger text– Turn on large accessibility sizes and make text even larger! I have it on the largest available which is equivalent to about a size 36 font

Bold text
– Creates larger weighted font that is easier to distinguish

Button shapes

Puts backgrounds on buttons so they are easier to notice.  It can best be described as a subtle, shaded effect with easy to distinguish shapes.  The target area is also large, meaning the buttons are easier to press.

Increase Contrast

I reduce transparency and darken colors to create a high contrast display, a feature that integrates well with the button shapes.  This is not overly noticeable to other people who use my iPad, and I have found it does not have much of an effect with color display in photos- all colors look good.

Reduce motion

I reduce motion to disable animations that can hurt my eyes.  This is tremendously helpful for people who have prisms in their glasses, as fast moving animations can cause vertigo for some.

Accessibility shortcut

By triple clicking the home button, you can edit accessibility settings. I have guided access and magnifier on mine.  Siri is the default accessibility shortcut.  If more than one application is set, then a small menu will be displayed when the home button is triple clicked.


Found in general, this is the parental controls section of the device. While it may seem silly to set your own controls, this eliminates the gif keyboard in the new version of iMessage if you restrict websites for adult content. I recommend putting all of the websites you access often in always allow first.

By enabling these settings, a person with low vision will be able to harness all of the capabilities of the iPad and use it to enhance their ability to use assistive technology.

How to make iPad accessible for low vision