A ‘light bulb moment’

Thomas Goff is an instructional assistant at Folsom Lake College who has been trained as an Irlen screener. He is a frequent contributor to SN&R’s Poet’s Corner.

Recently, a student in the Reading and Writing Center at Folsom Lake College where I work chose one of our “breakout” rooms for study, rather than working in our open area where conversations may distract. He used our optional lamp stand fitted with conventional incandescent light bulbs, rather than the room’s fluorescent lighting. Asked about his choice, he replied that the incandescent lights made things “more like home,” where he studies successfully with regular bulbs.

I know nothing about this particular student other than his reply. But Helen Irlen, after years as a learning-disabilities specialist in Southern California, has amassed thousands of case studies and much supporting evidence to show that many people, students included, suffer greatly under fluorescent lighting.

About 12 percent of the general population and 46 percent of the “learning-disabled” population may experience, in forms varying from mild to extreme, what’s known as Irlen Syndrome. People who have Irlen Syndrome may see the text dance, float, lift off the page, swirl, blur or become degraded by penetrating “rivers” of blank white. This is especially likely to happen when reading black ink on glossy paper illuminated under fluorescents.

Irlen’s Syndrome is not an optometrist’s problem; it is an eye-brain perception problem. And while the Irlen Institute (www.irlen.com) can provide other solutions to the malady, incandescent light bulbs are of greater help than any other kind yet tried. Moreover, fluorescent bulbs are toxic and serve only to poison our landfills.

Abetted by a spate of recent publicity in the Sacramento Bee—and recently in SN&R, with a full-page editorial—and by exertions around the world from environmentalists (but also from fluorescent-bulb makers), Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, is attempting to have all incandescent bulbs in California snuffed out by 2012.

In view of this ill-considered rush to judgment, it’s time for an old-fashioned “light-bulb moment.” Any who care to explore the Irlen Web site can contact the Institute and should consider signing a petition to prevent this proposed ban.

The light you save may be your own.