Eurovision is one of those things that tries to be exactly what it says it is. Accepting. Diverse. Builder of bridges, breaker of walls. Just take a look at the slogans variously adopted over the years.
Such inclusionary language seems to suggest that Eurovision is a place to which everyone is welcome. Whoever wants to take part in the Eurovision furore, can do so. This is how the story goes, that no barriers exist in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Nicole Mendes disagrees. For Nicole, there is one, bright, shining aspect of Eurovision that precludes a small – albeit not insignificant – portion of a potential Eurovision audience.
Nicole lives with photosensitive epilepsy. That means, for Nicole, she is acutely sensitive to certain visual stimuli that have the potential to trigger uncomfortable and, in many cases, dangerous, seizures.
“I was diagnosed when I was 8-years-old, so photosensitive epilepsy has always been a part of my life,” Nicole says.
“To deal with it on a daily basis, I need to watch my diet, manage my lifestyle correctly. I can’t spend too much time online after the sun sets and I have to wait for my medication to take effect in the morning before I can begin my day.”
Nicole has launched a campaign called Eurovision Safe where she is calling on the European Broadcasting Union to begin taking steps to make the Eurovision Song Contest safer for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
“The flashing lights, strobe effects and flashing images accompanying the artists’ performances make it impossible to watch without the risk of having a seizure,” the campaign said in a statement.
One needn’t look far to any Eurovision iteration in recent memory to find countless examples of performances that would deny an epileptic viewer the chance to take part in the fundamental act of watching. In the most recent Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, there is but one performance that someone like Nicole could watch: incidentally, that performance happens to be that of winner Salvador Sobral.
“Music is not fireworks, music is feeling” is a quote from Sobral that Nicole cites as the clearest example of why Eurovision should look at this step as constructive, rather than an hinderance.
“I believe that the ESC does promote “building bridges” but the celebration of diversity is according to specific criteria,” she says.
“Eurovision encourages acceptance of different cultures, musical genres, and recently looking at issues of physical disability and the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, discrimination is still seen when looking at those with mental health and neurological conditions, especially epilepsy.”
Certainly, what Nicole is asking – and what many signatories to her petition agree with – is not beyond the ability of the EBU, the Eurovision Reference Group or any Host Broadcaster. There are a myriad ways that they could approach this.
They could mandate that at least one dress rehearsal from each of the three shows restricts the use of flashing lights, strobes and other visual effects, record it, and make this version available via their YouTube channel. Such a taping could be even streamed online as a simulcast during the actual shows so as to not exclude anyone from the liveness that makes the Contest so special. If I can think of a solution, the technical wizards of the EBU can think of a better one.
As Nicole reminds us, this isn’t merely about making Eurovision more inclusive or about making their language of acceptance more valid. It’s about making something that touches the lives of many around the world safer for a greater number of people. Can you take issue with that? We certainly can’t.
Sign the Eurovision Safe online petition here and let the European Broadcasting Union know what you think.