Lē Silveus McNamara talks about neurodivergence, color choices, and overstimulation

Lē Silveus McNamara says consuming Tech has a stimulant effect on the nervous system and the overconsumption of a stimulant, like technology [is] bad for your health.

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Hi, I’m Nic Steenhout, and you’re listening to the accessibility rules soundbite, a series of short podcasts where disabled people explain their impairments, and what barriers they encounter on the web. Just to remind you that transcripts are available for all episodes at the time of publication from the website at https://a11yrules.com. I am really grateful to Fable for sponsoring this episode. Fable is a leading accessibility platform powered by disabled people. Fable moves organizations from worrying about compliance to building incredible and accessible user experiences. They do that through product testing and custom courses. You can learn more about how Fable can work with your team at https://makeitfable.com/nic. Today I’m talking with Lē McNamara. Hey, Lē, how are you?

Hi, I’m doing well thank you, Nic.

It’s been a while since we’ve been in touch on and off on the web. And we worked a little bit together a while back on the Knowbility internet accessibility rally. And that was fun. And finally we get to connect. So let me ask you this, what’s your disability or your impairment?

So well, I am a multiple neurodivergent. So I and I also live with a chronic illness. So the nuts and bolts are C PTSD, chronic pain condition and autoimmunity with self diagnosed autism, which is kind of a recent discovery that I have made of myself as part of being a part of the accessibility world. And man has that discovery, blown some things up wide open for me. So it’s been that’s been an exciting adventure the last few years.

It can be very exciting to realize you, you have something that has never been diagnosed, but suddenly when you realize it’s like all the pieces of puzzle come together.

Exactly. Yep. Yeah.

So we’re talking about barriers on the web, what would you say your your greatest barrier or your biggest pet peeve related to your disabilities and using the web? What what would that be?

So I would say the number one is going to be the overuse of high saturation, or what I call emergency colors. So when you are neurodivergent, although many of us see especially high saturation colors differently. So if you imagine, in your mind, a bright red, we might see that as more of a neon. And that same mechanism of you know, when you see when you’re online and you see an emergency pop up, for example, and it’s in that bright, high saturation red, that same mechanism that makes it so that that red gets your attention is overly stimulating for me. Right. And so when that color, whether it’s high saturations reds, yellows, or oranges, when those colors are used, outside of the context of their intention, which is to say, an emergency, we need your attention right now. That hook, right, that hook into the mind can be very problematic. And in fact, when I see a website that uses especially high saturation, red as a branding color, and so you’ll see it in blocks all over the side, or see buttons all over the site. It actually causes both high anxiety and nerve pain so that overstimulation can be so severe that it puts the nervous system into overload. And the experience of that internally is anxiety, frustration, sometimes a sense of panic, but also active pain that can last sometimes for a few minutes, but sometimes for several days.

Would you say then that companies that have red as a brand color need to change that or what would be a solution there?

Yes. So really, what we’re looking at is the saturation level. So you can use red, but you want to bring the saturation level down. Right. And actually, if you want to see examples of what I mean by this, I did write a blog post that is currently posted on the TPGi website. It’s called Going beyond WCAG losing spoons online. And in that article, I extrapolate some of the various issues that I have found on the internet and one of these, this is one of the issues and I do give visual examples that you can consent into or not for my, my neurodivergent peers, and also hex codes so that you can really see what I mean by high saturation, but your designers will know what you mean. And so you just want to bring the saturation down. So if you’re using a warmer read that that’s better Right. And then I would just say if you do you know, if you’re a company that sort of stuck with a high saturation color that you’ve invested a lot of time in marketing in, and it’s in your logo. Well, if it’s just in your logo that might be okay. But take it out of the website in large blocks, right? Take it out as a big block background color, or as button colors, text colors, etc.

Thank you. If you had one message for designers or developers, what would it be? Is it along the lines of beware your colors? Or do you have something else for for them to think about?

I think it’s I think it’s broader than that. I think one of the things that, as a culture we are still overlooking when it comes to these new technologies, and how much time we’re all spending with them is that at the end of the day, consuming Tech has a stimulant effect on the nervous system. And this is true for everyone, regardless of whether or not they’re neuro divergent, but not unlike the consumption of overconsumption of a stimulant, like caffeine, for example, is bad for your health, the overconsumption of a stimulant, like technology, like the screen based technologies that we use, is also bad for your health. And that’s just even more so true for those of us with what we call sensory sensitivities who are neurodivergent. Right? So I would encourage designers to educate themselves on the basic neuroscience of that and be thinking about it as they’re designing to minimize their does minimize the stimulant nature of their designs, you know, as that as that light comes in through the eyes and affects the brain and affects the nervous system, right. So and that can be that can be a lot of things that can be minimizing motion, minimizing the amount of content on the screen at any one time, so minimizing clutter, you know, not not putting too much information all in one space. Limiting limiting color, color variance, decreasing the saturation of colors across the color spectrum, right. So there are a lot of things that we can think about and imagine to do to say, to say we understand this as a stimulant, naturally. So what can we do to minimize that effect, and that is going to not only help my population, but it’s also going to decrease the negative long term effects of technology use on the population at large.

Lē, thank you so much for sharing your your experiences and giving some advice to our listeners. So thank you. Yeah, thank you