Sunday, July 14, 2024

John Samuel


Prior to assuming his current role, John Samuel spent about 20 years working globally. While he experienced various successes during that time, including launching a multimillion-dollar business for a company in Africa, the Cary native held tight to a secret for as long as he could.

“I was going blind to a degenerating eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa,” says Samuel, 41. 

In 2017, he learned about Durham-based LCI, the largest employer of people who are blind in the nation. He soon joined the organization and was able to use his business and personal experience to create a technology-services business that would create jobs and upward mobility for people who are blind.

“Based on my own lived experiences as someone who lost their sight during their career, I knew the first thing we had to address was the accessibility barriers that kept many people with disabilities out of the workforce, so we launched a digital accessibility business called LCI Tech,” he says. “That business eventually became Ablr, and we expanded from just digital accessibility to a full-service disability-inclusion organization.” 

Samuel, along with co-founder Mike Iannelli, launched Ablr in October 2020. Ablr, which has 10 employees, is a division of LCI. Ablr began as a joint venture between LCI and Raleigh-based digital agency Walk West, but LCI acquired 100% of the business last year.   

Ablr Works was launched in collaboration with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Services for the Blind. Its goal is preparing people who are blind for careers in digital accessibility. The first cohort was organized during the fourth quarter last year and will enter the workforce as accessibility analysts in 2023. 

Purchases of the company’s “Disability Inclusion: Putting Untapped Talent to Work” training modules also led to Ablr receiving the NC Tech Association’s 2022 DEC Tech Award. 

“Our team lives the famous disability mantra of ‘Nothing about us, without us,’” Samuel says. “What that means is that 70% of our team identifies having a disability, including myself, and that allows us to leverage our own lived experiences to provide our customers with a unique offering that can’t be replicated.” 

Last November, Samuel published his first book, Don’t Ask the Blind Guy for Directions: A 30,000-mile Journey for Love, Confidence, and a Sense of Belonging.

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