Web accessibility and equity with Ablr 360’s John Samuel

The internet should be accessible to all, regardless of ability. 

Founder and CEO of Ablr 360, John Samuel joins host Alisa Herr as he details his journey. From his days in college when he learned that he was losing his sight to becoming the founder of Ablr 360, John shares all as he discusses how he has overcome his challenges to create opportunities for people with disabilities.

Inside Impact is hosted by Unity Web Agency CEO Alisa Herr and is produced by Earfluence.


This transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.

Alisa Herr: Welcome to Inside Impact, where we give you a behind the scenes peek at how organizations can create positive change in their communities. I’m Alisa Herr, founder of Unity Web Agency, and on the show today, I get to talk with one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs I’ve ever met — John Samuel, whose personal mission is to create a workforce where everyone feels included.

John is the co-founder of Ablr, a Digital Accessibility and Inclusion company that was founded on the key principle that all digital content — including websites, videos, and applications — should be accessible for everyone… no exception.

If you haven’t heard John’s story before, I strongly encourage you to find his Ted Talk on YouTube because it’s truly jaw dropping. 

To summarize, John started losing his vision in college — but he was embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone. After graduation, he worked all over the globe — India, New York City, Cameroon — gradually learning how to get around and problem solve without being able to see much. 

But one problem he kept encountering was using a computer without being able to see the screen… and it made him worry that his career was over. 

So once he came back to the US for his MBA, he learned about a man named Ed Summers who had developed software to help people who are blind and low vision visualize graphs and charts using sounds.

Coincidentally, Ed lived in John’s hometown and had the exact same rare eye condition. He figured if Ed could get around that suburban town and have a career in tech, he could too. 

So when John and his family decided to move back to his hometown, he was on the phone with his dad planning the move…

John Samuel: And as he’s driving, he’s talking to the phone, he starts yelling at something. I’m like, what are you doing, dad? And he’s like, oh, there’s a blind guy on the road. maybe it’s a guy you’re trying to get in touch with. I’m like, oh dad, please, please, please. Don’t, you know, don’t yell at anyone blind. And he’s like, all right, gets outta the car, walks with a poor guy and says, are you ed summers?

And the guy says, yes, I am. And after, after apologizing, did he agreed to meet me and that changed my life. He, he eventually introduced me to LCI, which happens to be the largest employer of Americans who are blind based right here in RTP. And I joined the company, tasked with creating a new business that would create upper mobility for people who are blind and low vision.

Alisa Herr: That company John was tasked to develop eventually became Ablr, the Digital Accessibility and Inclusion company. It launched in 2020, right around the time of the election.

Something that got us some notoriety was that we did the accessibility assessment of the presidential candidates. President Trump and president Biden. So we did an assessment of their websites and it got picked up   on some national, you know, magazines. And so that really helped us, but it was it, you know, the business slow to come in.

So for the first six months we were like, oh my gosh, did, is this not going the way we want it? Yeah. And, and, and then something happened. We had an internal meeting, you know, we had, we grew faster than we had business. Right So. Business was trickling in. We had maybe 10 people on the team. We had this like just group strategy meeting, like for the next fiscal year   and we were having this meeting and it, it was terrible.Like terrible. And it brought us all the tears. 

Alisa Herr: I’ve had those meetings. they’re not fun. 

John Samuel: Right. And I was like, oh my gosh. Like, and we had a plan for a two-day session. And after the two days we didn’t accomplish any of our goals. And then finally we’re like, all right, let’s just at least get core values.

Let’s just get that done. And then we’ll be happy. We’ll go to the bar and that’s it And so we ended up putting our core values of GRIT and Growth mindset Relationships   Initiative. And. Trust so that was our, that was grit and 

Alisa Herr: those are good. And the acronym works even as another, a whole other value on top of it

John Samuel: exactly, exactly   Exactly. But after that meeting, it was like, we knew we had to make some difficult decisions and we, when we looked at our team and said, we need to have people who represent these, these core values, we had to make some cuts and that happened. And it was very difficult.

But from that moment, yeah, like it was like a, a light switch   and we just started to really, really, you know, get new business work as a team gel. And it it’s been amazing since then. And one of the big projects I really kind of triggered that was. We got the North Carolina election board, making sure that the absentee and elections are voting is accessible.

It’s hugely important. Right? And it’s like, when you think about, you know accessibility and voting to me, both of them are civil rights. Yes. You know, human rights. And that’s what we need to be able to have. And to be able to be part of that in back home in North Carolina, to make sure that all people can vote is super exciting

Alisa Herr: I’m curious about the process that you did to, to find your core values. Are you using EOS? We are. Okay. I’ve yeah, the, those EOS, the early meetings, brought me to tears many times. Yes. They’re very hard. Yes Are you we don’t need to include who, but I’m curious. Who are you working with as your implementer?

John Samuel: Oh, gosh, I forget him. Walt. Walt Whitman or Walt, not Whitman Walt. 

Alisa Herr: Yeah. I’ve heard of Walt. I think his office is actually in my therapists building. So I see his name when I go in there. I’m like, oh yeah, I know that name. 

John Samuel: Cause we actually didn’t use walt. We actually tried using Walt when we were LCI tech and we did a modified cuz LCI was an EOS business.

And so then we tried to, that was the problem. LCI is such a large organization, we tried to bring it into, we first took their core values and that’s not the right thing to do and then we had to really Get down to what our core values were. And when we started thinking about the growth mindset, of why that was important to us.

It’s like we had to start to think about, like, we had to think forward, we had to be, how are we gonna grow? We need to be that hunger We need that hunger. And the relationships really was kind of partnerships and we knew we’re not gonna be successful without partners.   and other individuals and organizations, you know, advocating in, in allyship.

Yeah. I mean, I mean, we are, we’re, we’re breaking down a lot of barriers and you can’t do that alone So that’s where that relates in relationships. And that also kind of ties into the internal relationships and initiative, you know, one thing that I saw was in the initial days, people were just waiting for myself or Mike to tell people we gotta do this, go do this.

And we, you know, if you’re in a startup, everyone’s wearing every type of hat. Yes. And you’ve gotta take initiative to say what’s in the best interest of our goals, you know, and so, and then finally trust, we had to have trust that people are. Do what they say they’re gonna do. And especially when we’re working remote, right.

Alisa Herr: Founding a company during, or, I mean, I guess it was kind of a pivot of you had, you were at LCI tech and then LCI tech has kind of morphed into ABLR in a way, but all of that happened. During the, the 

John Samuel: pandemic I mean, creating a joint venture, we had LCI tech. And so it’s almost like you, we have our ways of doing things and now we have to, we have to create this, like Mike Ianelli and I, you know, I’m no longer an individual founder.

Yeah. To being a, excuse me, Co-founder and so to be able to have a co-founder and build that relationship is it’s a whole, it’s a whole different thing and yeah. When you’re not able to see each other on a daily basis or have that proximity It really is hard. Oh 

Alisa Herr: yeah. That’s a whole big barrier.

John Samuel: And that was, I think the first thing we had to address   was how do we work together? Yeah. I mean, and it, and we had to put way, put our side, our egos of, you know, in, in the betterment of our mission. 

Alisa Herr: Towards the beginning of the pandemic.   my company, unity web agency. We actually went through a bit of a rebranding.

Yeah. And it was in April of 2020 that we launched our new brand from, we were previously unity digital agency and we relaunched as unity web agency and we went All in on accessibility and that’s actually how we met was really through the local accessibility. Well, no, it wasn’t even through accessibility community.

It was just, we both ran into each other at this disability. job fair. 

John Samuel: Yeah. Well, yeah. Cause I think RTP foundation, when I was reaching out, I’ll just cold calling anybody and everyone, you know, accessibility, accessibility. And that’s when at the RTP foundation’s like, oh you need to talk to unity.

Yeah. And that’s how we got connected. And they’re doing some type of like disability awareness event. 

Alisa Herr: yeah, we met there and I’m really glad we did, because I was looking for ways that we could make our websites more accessible and like, how do we make sure we’re doing that better?

And so we both share that passion. Yes. And. So when I, when we rebranded and we went all in on accessibility, the first year of business was great, but the second year of business, we actually realized that we were alienating people by saying by, by going so far in, on accessibility and saying that like, we build accessible websites, that there were actually people that were like, well, I don’t need that.

Yeah. You know? And it was like, oh man. So we’ve had to like, walk it back a little bit where. we found that. And after walking back our marketing messaging from being all in on accessibility now, it’s just every, everything that we do is accessible. All the sites that we build are accessible, but that’s not what we’re selling anymore.

Yeah. We’re selling websites again And, it’s just a really interesting, pivot that I, I was surprised by for ourselves just in the last year, I think. And it was in one of our annuals in our annual meeting. I think that we were like, are we, why is business not going well? Yeah. What is it about our marketing messaging?

That’s not going well And, yeah, but I’m curious, like with Ablr have you experienced any of that with. Getting started with a business or like when things were slow, was it because people weren’t interested in accessibility or they thought it was gonna be too expensive? Or like, what was it that kind of held people back from?

John Samuel: Yeah, it’s a great question. Cuz like when we first started, to look at it, it was like, we were, we thought these are the people who needed It’s, we’re like, here, you need this, you need this. And they did not see it. We weren’t walking them to the river to, we weren’t, we weren’t walking them to it.

And so we were trying to sell people who didn’t get it wanted, or have the capacity to do anything about it.   going back to that EOS. They get it want capacity, right? Yes. And so we use that same mentality where you’re looking at employees, take it to customers. Oh, do your customers get it right? Do they want.

and do they have the capacity to pay for it? Right. And so, or do it right. Remediate. And so when we, we kind of shifted our model and said, like, we don’t wanna waste our time trying to convince everybody to do accessibility. But if you wanna do it, we’re gonna be here for you We’re gonna help you.

And we’re not gonna just say it’s all or nothing. Like you gotta do all accessibility or not, we’re gonna meet you wherever you are in your accessibility journey. and then we’re gonna. And we’re gonna take it in a phase approach, because if you say we can’t do it, if it’s not fully accessible.

Yeah. And that was our mentality before we were so almost like militant about it, then they were like, hey, that’s not for us We say, hey, let’s take it bite size steps. Let’s do this couple pages. Let’s do this. Let’s show you how to do this. And then when we tied it into the DEI and said, we’re not selling you accessibility, we’re selling you inclusion to an entire community. That really changed the kind of narrative. 

Alisa Herr: That’s good. That’s really important. I wanna talk about accessibility overlays, So accessibility overlays are marketed as a one stop fix or like a complete One Stop shop to make your website accessible and avoid any lawsuits that might come from your website not being accessible. And they. Generally a very low investment and really easy to install on a website, which is the draw for them. 

It’s a problem, And I’ve been trying to find ways to address it with people. I’ve had, conversations with people that say they think that they’re so helpful because when they install an overlay, they think their, their perception is that any content that they add to their website at any point it’s 100% accessible No matter what are some challenges that these overlays have presented to the.

Disability community and specifically the community that needs to use different kinds of, adaptive technologies. Is that what they’re called? Assistive technologies to, to access information on the website?

John Samuel: Yeah You know, they often say it’s just a line of code It’s just a line of code and you’re gonna be a hundred percent compliant Right. And so what those overlays, they’re saying, it’s just a mask over your website.

But when I, as an individual who uses a screen reader, which is an assistive technology that reads the text and images that are on the, the screen back to me to tell me what’s going on, you know, often. Those overlays. Aren’t giving me the information that I actually need. It’s not actually usable.  so what they’re accessible, why they’re compliant is that when somebody runs a, you know, one of these little automated testers to say, like, these are what these, you know this law by lawsuits are doing, they’re putting on just a, an actual, like testing quickly to see if it’s accessible through this little automated tester.

Oh, it is. It’s accessible. That’s when they move on, but it’s not actually usable for when actual people like myself come to your site using an overlay and, and it’s been really difficult to, you know, that’s one of the things we have to educate people on is like, you’re putting a band aid over the issue.

And so, you know, your leg is broken a band aid is Not gonna stop that You may, you may tell me, oh, you, you have a band aid. That’s great. But I don’t know that your actually broken. And so, and that’s when we really kind of shifted our focus too, is like what makes Ablr unique versus other Digital accessibility, organizations or software like overlays is the fact that we are making content usable for people with disabilities.

Yes. So not only we’re taking compliance, compliance, ADA, all those, whatever you, whatever compliance requirements you wanna say, that’s just the table stakes We’re taking to the next level. We’re making it usable. And when we make it usable for people with disabilities, it’s gonna improve the usability for all people.

And so one of the greatest examples that anybody and everybody can relate to is curb cuts. Right? You’ve heard the example curb cuts. When you see a curb cut on the road, you know, those were designed for individuals who are, are wheelchair users. And, but how many of us use it on a daily basis? I have, I have two little kids and we push a stroller, you know, using those curb cuts.

Right? Yeah. You know, suitcases where you’re traveling, everybody benefits. But it was designed for one group of people and same thing when we make websites and digital content applications accessible for and usable for all people, it’s gonna benefit everyone. 

Alisa Herr: The example that I like to use for, or maybe it’s not an example.  The analogy, I guess, that I like to use for those accessibility overlays is I like to think of it as a restaurant in an old building from like the 18th century Right. And there’s steps to get up in it, but in the back by the kitchen, they’ve got they’ve got curb cuts, right. So that they can get their carts up.

Yeah. And all of that. And so technically they can say, oh, well we do have an accessible entrance, but you have to go through the kitchen and it’s like relegating a whole group of people to this less-than-ideal way of accessing the restaurant Through a kitchen Or, you know, it’s, it’s. That’s not, that’s not the same. No, you’re using a backdoor. 

John Samuel: Yeah. I mean, you’re right. I mean the backdoor solution and, and when we regulate, when we say digital accessibility is a line of code, that is not the case. Accessibility is about a user’s experience. That’s the difference. So when you say I can make, I can solve all your solutions with a line of code you’re selling snake oil right there it’s cuz like that user that they’re not part of that experience.

Right, right. And, you know, one of the things that, you know, why I think overlays have gone so popular is that they just have a lot of marketing budget They do. They’re pumping it out Every Google ad is like that And, and, and it’s sad It’s really sad. But again, I think if organizations, you know, as we start to really think about DEI and accessibility again, what we’re learning is DEI is not just a, when we talk about beyond the checkbox, that’s what it is.  We’re talking about overlays are just a checkbox, but when you go beyond that and actually think about it, it’s about your customers come to your site. It’s about those employees who are coming to your site, it’s about all those individuals that you are trying to reach out to.

That’s what that’s, what accessibility is about. And so when you go with these overlays, you’re, you’re, you’re really not thinking about those individuals. 

Alisa Herr: I see these overlays as a big competitor for my own company. Oh yes. And, and it’s a big competitor for Ablr as well.

John Samuel: Oh, interesting enough. I’d say they’re more, they’re a competitor to the web developers. They’re oh, okay then. Yeah, because to Ablr what’s happening is organizations who had it on their website. Now they’re like, oh, it’s not working and that they’re getting in trouble still and so then they’re coming to Ablr to be like, hey, we need you to fix this.

We got duped, and that’s where we get. It’s the number of people who are getting duped, but it’s a small businesses I feel like maybe ex they just have the perception. Like I just built a new site and I got this accessibility widget on or overlay widget over audio, whatever it is. Now I’m all compliant and then they get in trouble.

And that’s what, that’s kind of the sad thing. I feel like it’s a small people the small businesses. They’re the ones who are getting hurt the most they are. 

Alisa Herr: Yeah. And it’s really, I’ve been asked before, what is the cost? Like how much more is it to build an accessible website? Yeah. And I don’t think it’s more.

Yeah, if you do it from the beginning, the correct way, it doesn’t cost more Because it’s all about education of the people that are building the website. So the, the UX, I mean, what you do at enabler’s UX It’s inclusive UX design and testing, and maybe not the design part, but it’s right. Like it’s complete usability it’s user experience.

Yeah. And so it’s making sure that UX designers know what makes a website inclusive and accessible and that’s part of UX, but then also designers and content writers and, developers need to know the background and the rules. And it’s just like any other rules in design or in development. And then if you do it in a certain way, then it’s accessible.

Yeah. So it’s easy for people that know what they’re doing, right? Yeah. But when you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s when you get in trouble. It bothers me. And, it is hard because when, for us, in terms of com competition for our business, you know, we, we are compared to a freelancer who then. Just add, throw that on an overlay onto it. And we can’t compete with freelancers Cause were an agency, a full agency

John Samuel: yeah, exactly, that’s the thing I think that that’s why some agencies have been like, oh, we might as well just go partner with them. But then it’s like, you know, are you actually, you know, giving your clients the best service you can possibly do.

Right. And as you talked about it, a lot of. You know, basic best practices of development, you know, people often do like, they’ll take, you know, quickly shortcuts, right? They may, yeah. It’s, you know, in, in the business, you’re trying to get pump out as much high quality in a time You have time constraint.

You’re trying to get a; you’re trying to get to your clients as fast as possible. And so, but if you take the time and I think that’s where organizations like yours are intentionality about accessibility. right. You’re thinking about it. And that you’re putting in that time in the, in the beginning stages.

So your clients can have a longer experience with an accessible website. Right? Right. You’re not just trying to get them something quick and quick and dirty. You’re getting them something that’s gonna, they’re gonna be able to use the life of that site. They. so I think it goes back to, you know, what clients are looking for.

If you really want something that you want a site that, you know, all people are gonna be able to use and that you’re gonna be able to use for some, like you can build on top of cuz you have a, you have a strong foundation, then you go to unity. Otherwise. You go to one of those freelancers and get one of those little plugins, but yeah.

Alisa Herr: and cross your fingers. 

John Samuel: exactly. And when you get that lawsuit, we’ll be ready. You can come talk to us; we’ll help you fix it. You know, it’s like, but yeah, that’s a sad thing we’ve been even seeing our, So many clients are just, it, the number of lawsuits is growing and we don’t like to talk about it.

Right. But it’s such an it’s so like they just send out these demand letter. and it’s, they’re just sprayed, like lawyers who are just like drive by spray by lawsuits and so, you know, it’s like, you know, but that’s the thing. If you know, we have clients who like, they’ve been going through a test, they have an accessibility conformance report.

Right. they can show, look, we did this, we worked with actual users with disabilities to provide us with actual usability. So we know, yes, whatever you’re saying is incorrect. Yes. And that’s why you, you work with an organization like unity or with Ablr 

Alisa Herr: that’s one of the things that I love about Ablr and like the reports that you create are those videos, basic explanations of why, like, it’s not just a, it’s not just a scan of a site and it’s really just, there’s, there’s actual people behind the work that you do.

And it’s wonderful So, okay. Let’s, let’s pivot a little bit to workforce development, cause you’re talking about how that’s part of your passion and when we met. And you were at LCI tech, There is a big workforce development part of that How is that working with Ablr and then also what new things do you have coming down the pipeline for workforce development?

John Samuel: Yeah. So, you know, workforce development has always been a big, big passion. That’s really what drives me a lot Like, is that, do we do the digital accessibility on that side so that I can support the passion? and it’s not that it’s just a passion. That’s not a, it’s not a viable business. It is. It’s very, you know, but it took a long time.

So it took us almost two years over two years to develop a program and work with, you know, the state to kind of help build this out. And so we’re very, very close right now where we’re starting to recruit candidates to go through the program 

Alisa Herr: and tell us about what the workforce development program is and who you’re trying to serve with it.

John Samuel: So with the workforce development program, we’re trying to get people, individuals who were starting off with individuals who were blind to get them into jobs individual accessibility. So initially we built out a Salesforce service cloud training program, and we thought this would be great.

You know, there’s a lot of customer service job. Salesforce is, you know, relatively accessible outta the box so we’re, we’ll be setting people up for success. And we, we try to take that to the market last year with the state. And we got zero people signed up. And it was like, oh my gosh, did we just spend two years building this out, this program?  

And it, and then we like, let’s just take a pivot because you know, digital accessibility, we know that it’s a lucrative business. There’s lots of people who are interested in getting into it. Cuz I know how many people applied for jobs on my team. You know, we know that people on our team, we had like three, four people on our team who, after two years on our team, they had zero years of work experience.

But then a couple years on our team, they were able to go to big companies like McDonald’s, CVS, Aetna, Pearson, and join their accessibility team but they would not have been able to do it before joining our team and getting that experience. So let’s see how we can bottle that experience, Put into this, into this program.

And so the workforce development program that we design it, what makes it unique. Is it it’s a customized workforce development program. So we will help guide people wherever there are in their skill level and experience. So the first, it starts off with an assessment of the individual’s technology skills.

then from there, we can determine if you’re ready to go into the customized training program. Whether it be a digital accessibility training, whether it be a sales force, you know, we hope to go into computer game quality assurance. We hope to go into, you know, all different types of web development, whatever an individual wants to go into.

We have designed this module in that way, but if you’re not ready to go into that program, we have an upskilling training program. Awesome. Get, achieve those skills so that you can then go into those customized training programs down the road when you’re. then we also have another module is career like exploration, get to know, you know, companies in the area do informational interviews.

And then this is a way to get a mentor and understand what other people are going through the challenges and realize you’re not alone. And it also will help build empathy with other companies because the more we can get tours of people, it’s like, I, I had the experience of doing Leadership Raleigh.

 And we went all around. We got to experience. North Carolina and then the city of Raleigh, I mean, all different aspects of it. We wanna do that same thing with the companies. And so bring this people to the companies and that way the companies get to know, and, you know, individuals who previously would not have that experience, get that.

And then we’re also doing career support. So after you go through the, you mean the, the, the customized training program, we’re gonna help you get internships. We’re gonna help you get, get you know, job ready, resume writing and, and interview prep. and so, and then finally, yeah, we will have an internship component of it, so, wow.

It’s a, it’s a six-module component and you know, you can take whichever modules you want.

Alisa Herr: And so how is that? What’s the relationship with the state of North Carolina?

John Samuel: Yeah. So division of services for the blind is funding this. And so the cool thing about it is, you know, we’re gonna start off with 10 people in, in the first cohort.

that’s gonna be launching in, we’re hoping in August. So August and November, and then we’ll be able to do another one in the spring. And so we’ll be able to do this on an ongoing basis. And if it’s accessible here, we now have the blueprint to take to every other state and nice.

And a lot of it is being digital. So we have a mix of online trainings plus that in person, you know, zoom, you know discussions and. what’s really great about in North Carolina is what people don’t realize is that we, we are here in this triangle area. You know, we talk about Charlotte, you know, majority and the triad area in Greensboro and stuff, but the majority of north Carolinas rural.

Yeah. And so with this, we’re able to tap into an entire community who previously had no access to this type of training. That’s great. And, and then we’ll be able to take this across the country and, and, and we designed it in a way that could be scale. it’s super exciting. 

Alisa Herr: It is exciting. I can’t wait to talk with you in another year and just see where things are known at that point.

It’s, it’s very, it’s very exciting. your, your passion of workforce development and, and getting people valuable, like jobs that are meaningful employment for people with disabilities who previously didn’t have access to. These kinds of well-paying and exciting and fulfilling jobs. Yeah.

Um, it reminds me of Greystone bakery where their mission, their B corporation and their, they say, I don’t know if it’s their mission or if it’s just like a tagline, they don’t employ people to make brownies. They make brownies to employ people. Oh, interesting And I think that I think of Ablr in a similar way where.

you’re not just employing people to test websites. No. And to, and not even just test websites beyond just digital accessibility, you’re going into the physical spaces, but you also, you, you do these things. You have, these services at Ablr for accessibility and inclusion. In order to employ people And I think that’s just really an awesome way of making an impact. 

John Samuel: Yeah. I mean, so when we really think about it, you know, I, I talk about the thing I’m most proud of. Like, no matter what if Ablr closes today, the thing I’m most proud of is there’s a person like on our team called Shannon Gardener.

Her name is Shannon and Shannon. She was the very first person to join my team When I joined LCI, you know, we had this contract with a mobile app company, and, and they wanna do scheduling and they, you know, the issue about this, they, they were claiming, oh, we’re gonna, you know, create all these jobs for blind people and all this stuff.

But the problem was their app wasn’t accessible. And the experience Shannon was having, trying to sell this to companies on the phone was terrible, cuz she couldn’t even use it. She couldn’t even you Hey, so, you know, they’re claiming to, you know, selling this, this false image. And so Shannon’s like, I can’t do this.

And she went back to manufacturing, you know, LCI is a manufacturing company. She said I can’t do this. And she went back to manufacturing and I was like, oh gosh, I just failed this person. I just joined this company. And I failed my first employee. And so when we launched the digital accessibility practice, I went back in that manufacturing floor and Shannon was working in the press room, this like really loud, like making file folders.

and I was like, Shannon, come, let’s go. I’m getting you outta here. And I was like, join my team again. And she did. And you know, now she is like, she’s thriving. She went from a digital accessibility analyst to a senior analyst, and now she is playing a huge role in that workforce development program.

She’s gonna be the trainer of people. And so that’s exciting. Right? So we’re seeing that upper mobility internally. And again, like I said, the, the three lines of business that we have at Ablr with our, you know, digital accessibility services, our disability inclusion advisory services, and our workforce’s own program is to help organizations and help our own organization be more inclusive so that we can hire people.

So we’re, we’re eating our own dog food in that sense. So it’s really exciting.

Alisa Herr: well, you host a video series called All Access. I would love to know what episode has changed your life? 

John Samuel: Oh, wow. I’m thinking about the recent ones, like, cuz I mean it’s been so really cool. Cause like the, the very first episodes I did, I did with I got a gentleman named Jennison Asuncion who is the head of accessibility at LinkedIn   when I was, before joining LCI and in my career, I thought I was the only blind person in the workforce, you know, 

I kind of felt this aloneness like all I wanted to do. I remember telling people I want to meet one executive who’s blind, I wanna meet one person who’s blind. That’s it? Cause I didn’t anyone. And that’s why I was so excited to meet Ed.  but then, you know, I had the opportunity once I, once I opened up coming outta the closet blind person, I started seeing, oh my God, there’s all these amazing people out there.

And Jenison was one of those people and he’s the founder of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. He started. Oh, wow. You know, coding boot camps across the like Boston, Toronto, San Francisco. And it’s amazing Here’s a gentleman, who’s an executive at LinkedIn and, and LinkedIn, and has essentially changed a lot of my own awareness.

it’s like once I was able to share my story and share things on LinkedIn, it really helped us grow. And so that I’d have to say that was a big, you know, really kind of a game changing, you know, Interview for me, cuz Jenison now has joined typically every global accessibility awareness day. He joins me on that.

And so that’s always exciting. And more recently I, like the last couple weeks I’ve had a couple of friends. It’s so funny ’cause like people have become friends now. It’s not just, you know, when interview it’s like, like, no, you know, it’s like us, it’s just friends, you know, we’re friends. We’re it’s, we’re sharing.

We’re talking. and so people are getting a glimpse of a conversation that you and I would just have if we were having lunch Right. We did have this conversation, 

Alisa Herr: which we should have lunch again soon. 

John Samuel: we do, but you, you know what I mean? Like that’s the kind of thing. And, and so, you know, a couple weeks ago I had, René Espinoza from, Lazarillo, which is a way finding application and it, so they’re providing digital maps, accessible digital maps.

And so you can go like it’s like Google maps for inside buildings also. That’s great. It’s really cool. But then let’s say you’re you need some support, like, alright, the map is showing me I’m here, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m. You can push a button and you can get a customer service agent.

Nice. Who can also tell you where you they’ll know where you are on the map, and they’ll be able to talk to you what you’re seeing through your camera? So it’s really cool. And so I’m really excited about that and this past week so René and I met, cuz he saw a video of me on LinkedIn for a drip, my cane, the, the cane company.

That’s cool and he, cuz René had started this company in Chile and they have 240,000 people on their platform and they wanna come into the us market. Oh my gosh. And so he met me on a video that I did. He reached out and became friends. I introduced him to Allen Hale over at General Motors and they became friends cuz René is doing a they’re mapping out the city of Detroit.

It’s so cool. So it’s so funny, cuz like now these connections have become friends and yeah. You know, Allen asked me to come and speak at GM next Monday. So they’re having an innovation contest, which is gonna be super cool. And I’m gonna be the opening keynote for them. 

Alisa Herr: That’s so cool. And my aunt used to work for GM 

John Samuel: mean it’s amazing what their commitment to accessibility, you know, Alan, he has essentially has designed their new accessibility, like department at GM, and they’re bringing on a lot of people. Cuz you know, as we think about the future of, of transportation and mobility.

People with disabilities are gonna be a part of that, a huge part. Right? Yeah. And so they’re planning for that future right now. And so it’s super exciting. You know, I left North Carolina cause I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t get around. And now, you know, Uber changed my life and who knows what’s gonna happen in the next 10, 20 years.

Right? I mean, I mean, I think that if we can get a robust public transportation system here, more people, you know, we’re talking about RTP, right. People that we’re get, they’re trying to build up a downtown, right.

In RTP, downtown Raleigh, where we are right now, you know, there’s a mass growth here. Like people wanna come in here, but we’re unique in the way that we have, you know, these like we’re in the suburbs. So we had to figure. A way to get people moving from one place to the next. And yeah, and it, I think if we can get a good public transportation here, I think it’d just be really revolutionized the way we, that we enjoy Durham, right. From Raleigh to Durham to Cary to chapel hill and all the other cool stuff in between. 

Alisa Herr: I agree. I can’t wait for that day.

John Samuel: Yes. I know. I’ve been waiting my whole life. 

Alisa Herr: Yes, me too. Okay. So my final question for you is what person or company doing good has had the biggest impact on you? 

John Samuel: Oh, wow. Yeah, so I think that the company that’s had the biggest impact on me in the last couple years really has been Lindsay reg over at 321 Coffee. I met Lindsay.

I was introduced by a gentleman named Mike Douglas and he introduced me to Lindsay. And Lindsay was in college at the time for people who don’t know, she was a college student who started a coffee shop that was designed to create employment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Cuz she had friends growing up who, who did have disabilities and she wanted to create an, a, an inclusive workspace for. And so she created this coffee shop called 321 and when I met her, it was just her energy, her, you know, that hunger, she had GRIT, you know, and, my wife and I, we just like, we, her, we really fell in love with Lindsay and Michael, her partner.

And we, we invested in them and, and I’d say that they’ve had the biggest impact on me over the last couple, couple years. Not only as a Lindsay, you know, she, You know, even though she’s only like 22, 23 years old, she has just really kind of pushed me to be a better leader. And, and I’m thankful for that relationship, that friendship.

And I love the work that they’re doing. And, and her partner, Michael always reminds me that we’re almost, I’m almost twice as old as him. which is so funny to think, cuz like I can’t imagine where they’re gonna be when they’re 40 years old. Yeah, so yeah. Awesome company there. 

Alisa Herr: That’s so cool. Yeah, their coffee is really good.

John Samuel: They were the top coffee shop in the Triangle, so yeah.

Alisa Herr: And Lindsay actually went to the same high school as me, 15 years after I did, 

John Samuel: Cary academy Yeah, yeah. That’s good stuff. I mean, like that’s a, I mean, it’s amazing again, another homegrown talent here.So we can’t, we can’t knock Cary. 

Alisa Herr: Right. yeah, it’s, it’s a lot better than it was back in the day. Yes, thank you again for joining me, John, it’s always great to talk with you. If people wanna learn more about you and what you’re doing, how do they connect with you? 

John Samuel: Oh, thank you. Yeah, they can reach out to Ablr360.com or reach out to me at my email address. John.Samuel@Ablr360.com and also I’m active on LinkedIn. So please, please join me.