Disney and Epilepsy in Star Wars partnership | Bolt Burdon Kemp Disney and Epilepsy in Star Wars partnership | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Disney and Epilepsy in Star Wars partnership

As a Star Wars fan, I was so excited for the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” this Christmas.

With more flashing lightsabre duels than you can shake a stick at, the movie races at a pace just short of light speed before ending with an epic CGI battle scene filled with a cacophony of gunfire, explosions and laser beams that light up the big screen.

Having sat in row E of a relatively small cinema, the fast-paced action scenes left me with both a slight headache and a strong desire to sit in a dark room with a cup of tea.

As I made my way out of the cinema, I noticed a sign stuck on the door to the screening, which read:

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker contains several sequences with imagery and sustained flashing lights that may affect those who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy or have other photosensitivities.” 

Last year BBK had the opportunity to support the charity Young Epilepsy.  We had great fun taking part in Purple Day for Young Epilepsy (you can read about my baking disasters here!) as well of National Epilepsy Week.

One of the other ways we supported them was to help host a discussion group for parents whose children have epilepsy.  One of the main things that I took away from this fantastic event was the lack of public awareness about Epilepsy.  I was therefore really surprised to see the condition highlighted at one of the year’s biggest hits.

It soon became apparent this same sign graces the front door of many Skywalker showings around the world.  It is the welcome product of an unusual move by The Walt Disney Company to warn theatre owners worldwide that the film may pose a seizure risk to those with photosensitive epilepsy.

In preparation for the film’s release, Disney even worked with the Epilepsy Foundation to spread the word of the risks that the film posed to fans with photosensitive epilepsy and the steps they could take when watching the movie.

What is photosensitive epilepsy?

According to Young Epilepsy, 5% of children with epilepsy are sensitive to flashing or flickering lights, otherwise known as photosensitive epilepsy.  Other triggers may include geometric shapes, patterns or situations such as sunlight reflecting on water or light shining through a row of trees.

A flicker rate of between 5 and 30 times a second is the rate that is most likely to cause problems and EEG tests show that there are changes to the electrical impulses in the brain when looking at flashing lights.

Advice for moviegoers with photosensitive epilepsy

The advisory given by the Epilepsy Foundation states that people with a sensitivity to light who want to watch Star Wars – The Rise of the Skywalker should:

  • Ask a friend to watch the movie first
  • Take said friend with them to another viewing to alert them of the scenes that contain flashing lights and then cover one eye during these sequences
  • Teach their friend the three steps of seizure first aid — “stay, safe, side” — so that they can help in the event of a seizure.  The strategy calls for staying with the patient, keeping them safe by moving things out of the way and turning them on their side to keep their breathing clear.

Young Epilepsy also provides helpful advice about seizure and first aid.  If you find yourself with a child having a seizure you should:

  • Note the time it starts and ends
  • Do not restrain the child’s movements
  • Protect the airway
  • Loosen tight clothes around the neck
  • Wipe away excess saliva
  • Stay with your child until the seizure ends
  • Never put anything in your child’s mouth
  • Let the seizure run its course
  • When the jerking has finished, roll the child onto their side

A step in the right direction

Epilepsy affects approximately 600,000 people in the UK.  This is equivalent to around 1 in 103 people.  Obviously, many of these people enjoy a good movie!

Despite this, epilepsy is often referred to as an “Invisible Disability”.

An Invisible Disability or Hidden Disability is an umbrella term capturing a whole spectrum of disabilities or challenges that are not immediately apparent.  My colleague, Claudia Hillemand, discusses invisible disabilities in detail here.

It is wonderful to see a huge studio like Disney taking the initiative to join in the discussion about epilepsy and show a willingness work with charities to spread awareness about the condition.  By being open and honest about the risks posed, Disney is enabling people to make informed decisions and ensuring that they have the best possible movie experience.

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