Cybersickness

How screens make us sick

iPhone settings to reduce motion

Cybersickness, or cyberkinetosis, is a pathology similar to motion sickness. It can affect anyone, at any age, when triggered by virtual reality, motion on a web page, video games, sudden sounds, or flashing lights in animated films. In 1997, 700 Japanese children were hospitalised after watching a Pokemon episode.

Along with migraines and dizziness, nausea is one of the most common symptoms of cybersickness. Researchers found that if we feel nauseous in front of a screen, it's a signal sent by our body to warn us against danger. Ever felt dizzy after drinking too much alcohol? That's your body's way of saying you are in danger. It's meant to stop us from taking in more toxins and keep us alive. 

While screens can make anyone feel sick, people with vestibular disorders are even more sensitive. For them, dizziness and vertigo can be frequent symptoms. This is due to the combination of sensory organs in the inner ear and brain that controls balance and spatial orientation. Causes can vary but the impact on someone's life is very serious. The symptoms often interfere with daily activities such as driving, walking or even using the bathroom. 

So here are some quick wins to make sure your content is safe for people online.

Quick wins

Avoid unnecessary motion

Too much movement on a screen can feel uncomfortable. Things like Parallax effect, where the background and foreground move at different paces can cause cybersickness. Long scrolling on social media (hello TikTok), or zooming in and out while projecting your screen can also trigger it.

Let people in control

It's best to let people control the interactions that happen on their screen, be it a video, an audio track or any kind of motion. Autoplay can surprise people, frustrate them and even sometimes trigger anxiety. If you're a developer, you can use the CSS media feature "prefers-reduced-motion". This ensures you don't override someone's settings to reduce animations on their device. If there isn't much you can do, allow people to pause motion.

Set up your preferences on your phone

Maybe you've experienced cybersickness yourself. One thing you can do is to adjust your phone settings to reduce motion. On iOS, go to Settings → Accessibility → Motion. On Android, it's Accessibility settings → Visibility enhancements → Remove animations. It'll also speed up your phone.

Final thoughts

Non-interference

Content published before a certain date doesn't have to comply with accessibility standards. But this type of content shouldn't block access to more recent content that does need to comply. This is the principle of non-interference, based on success criteria including audio control, flashes and ability to pause, stop and hide.

Publication date

2/2/2024

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