Accessibility, Technology, and Virtual Reality With Steven McNellie | – ARK Crystal

Accessibility, Technology, and Virtual Reality - Interview Transcript

This interview is part of the ARK Crystal Wellness Week Series from February 2022. During the Wellness Week Series in held every February and Late Summer ARK Crystal brings together thought leaders and inspirational wellness speakers to share their knowledge and experience. 

Interview with Steve McNellie from Transcript -

ARK - Hello, welcome to, to the continuation of our Wellness Week for ARK. I'm here with Steve McNellie. He is the founder of , which is a an immersive Oculus yoga app. But you also have experience with accessibility and technology.

Steve - That's correct. I, you know, my experience with disabilities goes way back, you know, I have multiple people with different disabilities and abilities in my family. And I've also seen the amazing things that people want to do. And I want to empower people to achieve the things they want, achieve and do the things they want to do. I see, technology is like a great equalizer. And in this physical world, it's really hard to, you know, reshape a physical world to suit your needs. But with with technology, with content online, you know, if if you need captioning, it's there. If you need to navigate a user interface, you can navigate user interface by... by voice or other methods. And, you know, I, I had an experience with producing some live events, for the Paralympic athletes, and they were phenomenal and you saw people do phenomenal things. And so, you know, I think the things that people traditionally kind of box out of what a particular person might be capable of the realizing that the human spirit is really is just so boundless, you know, regardless of whatever box, you know, you know, we're wrapped up inside.

ARK - Right? And technology seems to be a very freeing ability for us. I mean, like, like, like you're saying is this, you know, this physical world that we're in, kind of regulates us and keeps us put, but things are just getting amazing when it comes to going online and other technological advances. Like you said, there's, there's closed captioning now, even for videos, and I've seen some really great, you know, like you said, the ability to choose things via voice versus actually having to touch anything. Can you explain kind of your thought process when it comes to working with technology and keeping in mind, you know, people that you've grown up with, and or had experiences with?

Steve - Yeah, it's my, I think my thought process starts with, with conversations. You know, I think, you know, the, the word, you know, like, "ADA" you know, you know, comes into people on the tip of people's tongues, like, you know, if something needs to be compliant. And in the reality is, people have different levels of ability. And even across the same disability, people have different levels of comfort to reach the same experience. So if we're trying to reach someone with a disability, it's really important to get out and have a conversation with them and say, "Hey, what do you need to participate in this experience?" And then, you know, once you develop a product or technology, getting feedback from the people that actually use it, which seems like a really common sense idea, but it's, you know, so frequently not visited.

ARK - Right, right. When I when I first started doing marketing online, one of my co workers was blind. And, and so that really helped us doing like ADA compliant, making websites compliant, and she would tell us things that we we never even thought of like we thought that we were done with websites and and done with things. And then she goes, "Well, I can't even tell tell the cursor where to go" and we went out we didn't even that wasn't even something that we considered. The basic act of asking somebody that you're trying to help, if it's actually helpful, seems kind of redundant, but it is, it's a huge step. And most of us don't even think about it.

Steve - having those conversations, and it's really important, because, you know, it's interesting. You know, making something that really works. For one person can open it up to so many people. You know, there's an example I think, you know, Nike, you know, just released a shoe a little while back, focused on Paralympians that didn't have use of their arms, where they could, you know, you know, you know, how we all like to get home, and we like to kick off our shoes. Right.

ARK - Right. Right. That's the first thing I usually have, like everything in my hands, and I'm not trying to take my shoes off and yeah,

Steve - right, destroys your shoes, you know, you know, they, they developed a shoe for Paralympians, they step on the feet in the in the bridge kind of popped open. And then to get back in, they just set their foot in it pop close. And it worked really, really well for folks like that. But, you know, for folks like you and me, like, you know, you know, it's, it's a great thing to have in life as well. So, you know, I think it can seem, I'm afraid folks seem feel it might be marginal, to focus on modifying something. But in reality, it can be beneficial for so many more people, you know, like I mentioned in the viewership of what is a seated yoga class, is actually done really well. You know, it can be a great break for someone throughout their day where they don't have to change into yoga clothes to get down on a mat, they can do it in between a meeting.

ARK - Could you go ahead and expound on on now you do an app for yoga, and it's via Oculus, but and it's, it's, I don't wanna say normally, but it's traditional yoga classes, but then there's also a few that are seated and more comfortable for people that, that don't necessarily have as much movement as, as the traditional yoga classes. Could you expand on that for me, please?

Steve - Yeah, so. So I, you know, kind of started to have that, you know, kind of bumped into it out of the fact that, like, you know, we have these, like, we're working from home, and we have these brief moments in our day, where it might be nice to be transported, you know, if you're, if you're in a city or whatnot. And then, you know, I started thought I was filming, and I was having all these amazing experiences out in Hawaii, out in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. And I thought it would be great to bring as many people into these spaces as possible, you know, these remote places that, you know, everyday people wouldn't necessarily, you know, have the opportunity to get to and so I wanted to bring as many people as possible. And I wanted to do something, you know, that was seated, but not using, you know, lower extremities at all. And this is where the feedback loop comes in, is I titled one of my most recent ones, I said, "accessible seated yoga". And I'm like, I proudly, you know, put it up online accessible seated, I'm like, You're doing a great thing. And then someone gave me feedback that, you know, it's ... or I called it "accessible seated yoga for all" and, and, and someone gave me feedback, you know, it might not be accessible for all, why don't you call it what it is, is it's it's a sunrise seated yoga. It seems like a slight modification, but really, you know, I'm looking at my classes and the experiences I create, and saying, like, just what, what are they and let someone else decide, you know, what they can do with it, or what their level of ability is, regardless of your level of ability.

ARK - That's fascinating, because, you know, like, like I was saying, from the marketing end I would have put the "accessibility" in just to kind of help define it. But it makes sense that people want to make their own decisions on whether or not this is something that they want to do.

Steve - And that's something we need to parse out is, you know, we need to be mindful that accessibility is sometimes it's become kind of a marketing tool. And if we want it to be a really fully functional tool to a user, you know, we need to say like, what is this experience? What are you going to get? Are you going to, you know, need to get on a mat Are you going to be the walk down stairs, you know, what, whatever whatever it is, defining the experience describing it, vibrantly, but accurately so that everyone can know what to expect and everyone can participate.

ARK - You are telling me that this seated yoga session has now outperformed the traditional yoga sessions that you have available.

Steve - It's, so we've posted one of these two weeks ago. And it's, it's almost reached the performance of a session that was posted about three or four times longer in history. And, and the one that was older was actually just kind of at the tail end of a really piece of popular content. And this one, just stand alone is it's now first placed in Oculus TV. If you search yoga, and Oculus TV, this will be the first yoga session that you see on Oculus TV

ARK - That's fantastic. And in and you're not like talking down to anybody, you're just offering something wonderful that everybody can can use, like you were saying, when this whole situation hit, all of us were looking for something that we could do during the day that we didn't have to change into different clothes and like take apart the living room and make all this this space for us. It's, it's something you could do seated, and, and not have to take up a whole bunch of space, it's it, I think it's it is available for everybody, it is reachable for everybody.

Steve - And that's, you know, that's something that, you know, the you know, what's been happening in the world has been reshaping with, with so many things being closed. You know, if you're in a city where you know, meeting spaces that are closed, and, you know, you need those, that social interaction, you know, like, I'm hoping this can feed the soul, you know, and that's, you know, what I'm hoping online VR yoga can be is not just, can we do the pose, but does it feel good? It you know, does it does it feel something inside of you.

ARK - I like that it's it's not only accessible, but it also feeds the soul, we do need that community and that, that openness, and that reaching out to each other, even even through virtual reality, which, which I am absolutely loving now.

Steve - You know, that's something, you know, I like to think about accessibility in general, is there's this difference between, "is it functional?" versus "does it fit my needs?" And, you know, how I have imagined this experience being involved with my my life? Like, you know, can I get from A to B? Or can I get from A to B in style, like, that's something, you know, it's something all of us want. And I think that's what folks need to remember, everyone needs to remember is, you know, we, we, as just human beings we have, we kind of share some similar, you know, thoughts and desires, and, you know, want to find a purpose and do what we're passionate about. And that applies to everyone. And I think sometimes that gets lost, unfortunately. And I'd like for that to be recognized.

ARK - It definitely is, I think the work that you're doing, by having it available to everyone is just amazing. And the places that you found were absolutely amazing. You know, I was watching some of those, you know, drone videos that you do, and I just sit there and I watch them over and over and over. And I'm just like, you know, I wouldn't be able to get up, like you were saying, you, you went to these remote places that no one could get to, and you were able to share it with everybody. And they're just absolutely, you know, you were up on a cliff. And there's this beautiful, you know, forest all around you. And it's just this, I went there with you with, you know, without leaving my couch

Steve - I think that's like part of humanity is to constantly redefine what's possible for yourself, you know, for people in general. So I think that's the exciting thing that that technology brings to the table is inclusivity you know, meeting people where they are and and providing an opportunity to not not make assumptions about people's abilities.

ARK - I think that's a wonderful statement is that we need to stop making assumptions about people's abilities. Because, you know, we could just be like, Oh, well, they can't do XY and Z therefore, they can't do this other thing over here and then just leave people out of the conversation completely.

Steve - Right? Yeah. Don't Don't assume always ask always have a conversation and start with a good conversation.

ARK - Well, I love it. I think that what you're doing, the concept behind it, the beauty of it all and and the ability to to use it on all sorts of levels of of skill is just absolutely really wonderful. And I just I can't wait to see more people of different levels, being able to use this and and share it with all of their friends.

Steve - That yeah, I totally agree. And I, I'd love to get feedback, you know if anyone out there is interested as well, we're launching the app store on Oculus soon. And it will be beta testing. So if anyone's interested of, for whatever reason, if you do yoga, if you're a beginner or a seasoned yogi, I'd love to hear from folks do and get their feedback.

ARK - Well, I'm sure I'm sure with everyone that follows us you'll you'll get feedback for sure. Everybody has their, you know, their personality and definitely wants to share with what works and what doesn't work.

Steve - And you, I mean, I think people need to be open to hard feedback, you know, to me, you know, not not all feedback is feedback you want to hear. But I think some of the, the most difficult feedback, and maybe some of the feedback that they least want to hear is the most relevant in ultimately, you know, the most helpful.

ARK - Of course, yeah, you know, we don't want to hear it, but sometimes it makes it makes makes what we're trying to do even better and even stronger. Um, is there anything you want else you want to share with with everyone that's that's watching with us?

Steve - Yep, just just those points of, you know, have a conversation. And then you know, give feedback.

ARK - I love it. I love it. I I love that. That's Those are great general rules for all of us every day, get the feedback. And don't assume. Well, thank you so much, Steve. This has been like the highlight of my day. It's very early, but it's still the highlight of my day. I love the work that you're doing. And I love the spirit that you're doing it in

Steve - Thank you, Cari. And thanks for having me on ARK.

ARK - Of course, of course. And there'll be more information down below in the in the blog and on the video description. And of course, a link to the Yogistream website ( and and look for them in the Oculus app very soon. Thank you.

Steve - Thank you folks. Take care

Steve McNellie


Thank you again to Steven McNellie from for his insightful interview and beautiful work.  To find out more about his immersive yoga app please visit