John Samuel (he/him) is the Cofounder and CEO of Ablr360. Ablr is a team of passionate people, with different experiences and abilities, focused on delivering Disability Inclusion and Accessibility strategies. They provide companies with the tools and resources to break down accessibility and cultural barriers. They aim to create a more diverse, equitable, and disability-inclusive world, one website at a time. Ablr currently employs ten people, and it is a company that was incubated from LCI, the largest employer of people who are blind, with over 800 employees across the country. In this episode, Samuel explains how easy it can be to make employment accessible to people with disabilities.
#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with John Samuel
[00:00:48] Amy: And we’re recording. Hi, welcome back, including you. I’m your host, Amy C, Waninger. My guest today is John Samuel. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Enabler. Enabler is a team of passionate people with different experiences and abilities focused on delivering disability inclusion and accessibility strategies.
[00:01:10] Amy: Enabler provides companies with the tools and resources to break down accessibility and cultural barriers. They aim to create a more diverse, equitable, and disability inclusive world, one website at a time. Enabler employs 10, but is a company that was incubated from LCI, the largest employer of people who are blind with over 800 people across the country.
[00:01:32] Amy: John, welcome to the show.
[00:01:34] John: Thank you so much, Amy. I’m excited to be here today.
[00:01:37] Amy: I am excited to have you here because I think accessibility is one of the aspects of diversity and inclusion that’s often overlooked in the conversation that companies have, and even when we talk about accessibility, it’s often a very narrowly focused discussion around things like wheelchair ramps or accessible restrooms.
[00:02:01] Amy: And there are a lot of other factors that go into accessibility because for every type of disability, different accommodations are needed. Can you tell me why this work is so important to you and why you helped launch Enabler?
[00:02:15] John: Yeah, no, you’re right. Yes, I was growing up my, my thought and introduction to accessibility was purely from a physical standpoint.
[00:02:24] John: As a kid seeing accessible parking spots or seeing the wheelchair ramps, that’s really what I thought about it. But when I was a kid, I didn’t have a disability, and as I got older and I was in college, actually, I was diagnosed with a degenerating eye condition and was told I was going blind. And because of my narrow mindedness and my lack of understanding the, of what disabilities was, I had no idea how to understand that.
[00:02:47] John: And yeah, I started losing my sight and the point in my life where I just couldn’t see anymore, the computers just gone and I thought my career was over, and that’s when I was introduced to the world of accessibility in terms of digital accessibility, and that really that lived experience is really what led me to create a blur because I’ve realized that.
[00:03:10] John: If I was struggling to find a job or do things online, what about other people who are blood and other people with disabilities? And so, it’s that lived experience is why I wanted to launch Enabler and really remove the barriers for other people with disabilities.
[00:03:26] Amy: What is it that you think companies broadly are missing about accessibility that you wish that they need?
[00:03:34] John: I think that a lot of people think of that accessibility is expensive to do, right? It’s like the cost, it’s cost prohibitive to do this, but in fact actually I think the majority of accommodations are less than $500. So, it’s something that’s not outta reach for folks, and I think another piece is to remember that accessibility and accommodations, it’s about people.
[00:03:56] John: It’s not just about a line of code, it’s about people and making sure that people have the best experience as possible.
[00:04:04] Amy: So I wanna touch on this because you said most accommodations are under $500, and that’s fascinating to me. Can you give me some examples of what kinds of accommodations you’re talking about and how those accommodations might help someone do a job that they would otherwise be prevented from doing?
[00:04:22] John: Yeah, so for instance, I use, since I’m blind, I use a assistive technology called the screen reader, and so we have screen meters out there that are actually free that you can get called NVDA and that actually can help individuals who are blind be able to access content on the computer screen without using a mouse.
[00:04:43] John: And so that’s something that’s example, that’s just a free assistive technology. We also talk about; we’re talking about close captioning, there’s different ways of doing that, you can actually caption videos by going on to your Google YouTube videos and changing them automatically.
[00:04:57] John: So, there’s a lot of these types of things that we can do to create these more accessible solutions. But it’s, if we don’t know what we’re, we don’t know, that’s really where the challenge is, and I think that we automatically assume that it’s gonna be really expensive.
[00:05:12] Amy: I think that’s fair, that we create barriers in our minds about what’s possible or what’s feasible.
[00:05:16] Amy: And then we don’t, we don’t engage in, in tackling those barriers, our own mental barriers about what’s possible or feasible, and then we leave more barriers in place because we didn’t examine that.
[00:05:27] John: That’s right, It’s nothing it’s not like we’re, Ill tried, Ill-intentioned about it., i’s just something we don’t have.
[00:05:33] John: It’s a, sometimes a lack of proximity that we don’t have in an everyday life, but in many cases, we are engaging with people with disabilities on a daily basis. We just don’t know it, and because we have those barriers those kind of perceived barriers in front of us where we don’t, we really blinders on.
[00:05:50] John: We’re not realizing that other people have are dealing with some accessibility or accommodation issues. But if we can create an open environment for people to talk about it, we’ll, I think that’ll really break down that break down those self-perceived barriers.
[00:06:03] Amy: I wanna switch gears and talk a little bit about the companies that you work with and how you engage with them.
[00:06:09] Amy: Why do they come to you and what kind of solutions do you offer for them?
[00:06:13] John: Yeah, that’s such a great question because when we first started off, it was really us going to organizations to say, oh, you should make your content accessible, and when we first started off with our digital accessibility practice, it really started off with the arts.
[00:06:29] John: The arts community really embraced accessibility, so it was an easier lift in terms of asking them, you should make your content accessible. But when Covid hit, everything turned digital, and we, and also with the whole focus on DEI, it really started getting people really thinking about what is inclusive mean?
[00:06:49] John: What does inclusion really mean? And so, the organization started to realize that we need to make sure that our digital content is accessible. And today, we now have clients from the arts to education to e-commerce, and now even Fortune 500 companies who are going beyond the website to making sure that their entire employee journey mapping is accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.
[00:07:13] John: And I think that’s where they’re the most excited.
[00:07:16] Amy: That is exciting because I recently was working with a friend of mine who she has some disabilities and some neurological differences, and she was finding herself systematically excluded and then very personally excluded from hiring processes. Whether her disability was disclosed by her or discovered by the potential employer.
[00:07:36] Amy: And as we were talking about this, we, it got me to thinking. One in four people in the United States is living with a disability. Companies everywhere are complaining that they can’t find qualified workers, and they’re excluding roughly a quarter of the talent pool automatically by not making their hiring processes accessible.
[00:07:58] Amy: So, it seems like a very clear business case for why companies would want to go out of their way to not just to do what’s right, but to bring more people to the table, and what kind of results do your clients see after you’ve worked with them, after you’ve helped them, get their tech right, or get their hiring practice right, or get their employee onboarding experience right.
[00:08:17] John: We’re starting to see more companies, they’re seeing the business case board, and now we’re actually seeing more people when you coming to those organizations because they know that they’re an inclusive and accepting organization for people with disabilities, and for my, in my own case, even when I was looking for jobs, a lot of the applications just weren’t accessible for me and I couldn’t apply for jobs.
[00:08:37] John: And all I heard was how inclusive and diverse they were, but they were cutting me out of the whole process, and now by helping these organizations, they can really walk the walk and that’s really exciting cuz we’re actually seeing more organizations reaching out to organizations who, who are really recruiting and helping to place people with disabilities.
[00:08:58] John: And that’s been my goal from the, from day one when we started April, was how do we create employment for people with disabilities? And what I’m really excited about is that we just launched a workforce development program to get people who are blind into tech jobs, and this is just a, our customers who are now making sure that they’re hiring processes are more inclusive.
[00:09:16] John: It makes that whole workforce development program make more sense, cuz we can just funnel people into these companies.
[00:09:24] Amy: And what they bring is something different, right? Because folks who have overcome barriers to get in to the company or who have helped tear down barriers to get into the company, then once they’re inside, can help tear down barriers for others to come in, but also for that company, reaching their target markets and expanding their customer base.
[00:09:45] Amy: So, I would think that the return on investment on this is really huge for companies that want to understand how to reach different customer segments or, want to sell goods and services to people with disabilities, if they don’t have that representation on the inside, it’s gonna be really hard for them to make that leap into the market, is that true?
[00:10:04] John: Oh, so true. All of a sudden you are really the ROI on a $25,000 investment of making sure your content or something accessible, you’re gonna now bring on talent to is loyal who are problem solvers and, go against that group think, and so from that perspective, you’ve got a whole new workforce that’s represents what our, as you talked about, one out of four people have a disability, you’re now more representative to what our factual culture is.
[00:10:30] John: And then when you talk about the new clients that you’re coming bringing on, it’s because organizations, when I go and shop, I want to see myself represented in that organization. There is a, and if I know your organization is more likely to hire people like myself, I’m more likely to shop with you and they’re gonna be more brand loyal customers right there.
[00:10:49] John: So yeah, definitely our eyes are incredible.
[00:10:54] Amy: There’s another piece to accessibility that I think people overlook, and that is when we make something accessible and we make a website accessible for someone, let’s say, who’s using a screen reader? There are also benefits to people who don’t use screen readers.
[00:11:08] Amy: When we make buildings accessible to people with mobility, excuse me, with mobility constraints or people who rely on wheelchairs, we’re making the buildings more accessible to everyone, we’re making them accessible to people with strollers and people on crutches, and, people with, limited range of motion.
[00:11:27] Amy: There are all sorts of ways that these little tweaks that we’re making and you’ve mentioned a lot of them are under $500, right? That we make these small changes, but the impacts are huge and they’re broad and far reaching.
[00:11:41] John: Yeah. Yeah. The most, we always talk about curb cuts, right?
[00:11:46] John: You talk about the wheelchair ramp, but the curb cut is such a perfect example from a physical standpoint. How many people utilize curb cuts when you’re walking with suitcases, when you’re rolling a stroller? Just walking in general, you know where the best way to exit is, and so when we talk about from a digital standpoint, close captioning is one of those things.
[00:12:05] John: A lot of people now, we have so much content online that we want to consume and sometimes you may wanna, you don’t wanna have the sound on, you may wanna just turn up the mute, the sound, put on the put on a Netflix show, and just be able to put on the close caption and be able to multitask that way.
[00:12:22] John: It’s something that you can do now, it’s, so we always talk about accessibility, if you make it accessible for people with disabilities, can be a better experience for all people, and there’s so many technologies that have resulted from the same case, not just websites, and we talk about Siri and Alexa, these home devices that now you know, which we’re designed for people with disabilities are now being mainstreamed in everybody’s home.
[00:12:42] John: We talk about the keyboard, the keyboard on our laptop, right? This was designed for people who weren’t able to hold a pen and write. And so now everyone, we all use a keyboard, and so these type of technologies and, accessible products and experiences, it really does.
[00:13:00] John: It, it improves the experience for everyone.
[00:13:03] Amy: I did not know the history of all of these things that I use every day, and I wanna thank you for educating me on that.
[00:13:08] John: Even the telephone, it’s amazing. Yeah.
[00:13:14] Amy: Amazing. Yes, now your work doesn’t end with Enabler. You also have written a book and I wanna hear about the, this book that you’ve written and who it’s for and what you hope that it will do for us.
[00:13:27] John: Yeah. Thank you for mentioning this. I launched or released Don’t Ask the Blind Guy for Directions at 30,000 Mile Journey for love, confidence, and a sense of belonging, because I wanted to share my story with others, and I wanna share with anyone who’s going through a challenge in their life, whether it be somebody with a disability, whether it be somebody going through a personal challenge at home, cause when I was going through my vision loss, I felt very much alone, and I didn’t think I’d ever find love, I had lost my confidence and I didn’t think I belonged anywhere, and so I wrote it for those individuals, but I also wrote it in a way to include some of those stats and disability stats that a lot of DEI folks, leaders in diversity, equity, inclusion, who need to know about this cuz I want them to understand that there is great talent out there who are going through some challenges, but if we are not intentional about understanding the challenges of others, we really won’t be able to create a true sense of belonging in the workplace.
[00:14:25] John: And so that’s really why I wrote the book cause something I often talk about is proximity builds, and if I can have proximity, whether, in front of you, in the, in talking with you, either with this, but if there’s another way to give a book or something that somebody can read about my own experiences, hopefully they have a little bit more empathy when they meet somebody with a disability.
[00:14:44] Amy: I think it’s fantastic. Now, where’s the book available and what formats is it available in?
[00:14:48] John: Yes, you can get it on amazon.com, you can get it on audible, and so we try to make it as inclusive as possible for everyone to access it, and you can go to my website, johngsamuel.com and order it there as well.
[00:15:01] Amy: Okay, we’ll make sure to put the links in the show notes for you. I think this is an important topic and it’s one that, that people shy away from, I believe most people are well intentioned and don’t want to make a mistake, and so they avoid conversations, interactions, or situations where the opportunity for mistakes is high, right?
[00:15:20] Amy: People are very risk averse, and so I wanna thank you for being here and sharing your insights with us and giving us some tools, some very low risk tools we can use to build our empathy, to gain our competency in having these conversations, but then ultimately in changing our companies for the better, so that we can include more people and include more perspectives, and ultimately build something that helps everyone.
[00:15:47] John: Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing my story and I appreciate it.
[00:15:50] Amy: Thank you, John.
[00:16:42] Amy: That’s it for this week’s edition of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Dr. Marcine Piron Davis from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.