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‘First-of-its-kind’ program to train visually impaired as digital accessibility testers


Editor’s note: Each week WRAL TechWire focuses its Innovation Thursday report on companies, people and technology that could make a big difference in our collective future.

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DURHAM – A “first-of-its-kind” workforce development program has launched in North Carolina to train people who are blind or visually impaired to become digital accessibility testers.

Ablr Works is the workforce development arm of LCI, one of the largest employers of Americans who are blind or visually impaired with headquarters in Durham. It has teamed up with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) to kick off the statewide initiative this month.

The benefits are twofold: It will make websites and digital content more accessible, as well as reduce the high unemployment rate among people with disabilities, the company said.

“The way we look at education is changing, with more people pursuing bootcamps, technical schools and certificates,” said John Samuel, CEO of Ablr and Ablr Works, in a statement.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for people who are blind and visually impaired to gain the training that they need to pursue in-demand jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree and were previously out of reach.”

John Samuel in his office

People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed versus non-disabled job seekers, according to the US Department of Labor.

Meanwhile, it’s estimated that over 61 million people in the United States live with a disability. A significant number of them face challenges accessing the web. According to a study conducted by WebAIM, 96.8% of homepages had accessibility failures.

With this program, DSB said it is building a partnership with a key employer in the state to find opportunities for training, upskilling and recruitment of people who are considered both an underserved and underemployed population.

Ablr Works said it will engage with employers to determine the skills they are looking for. “Then [we will] work to broaden access to these career tracks for people who are blind and visually impaired who want to join the workforce but previously weren’t equipped to do so,” it said in its release.

LCI is a manufacturing, distribution and retail company that provides products and services for the federal government through the AbilityOne program, a federally mandated program that supports employment for the blind or other individuals with significant disabilities.

In early 2019, LCI recruited Samuel, who is legally blind, to launch its tech division. In 2020, Samuel separately branched out to start a joint venture with Raleigh digital marketing agency Walk West.

Ablr Works is the workforce development arm of the business, which is wholly owned by LCI. Ablr is the venture between LCI and Walk West, which is a digital accessibility and disability inclusion business.

LCI Tech is now Ablr, a joint venture with Walk West to promote digital accessibility

Donald Thompson: Talking disability and inclusion with Ablr CEO John Samuel

h/t – wraltechwire.com

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