RALEIGH-DURHAM — LCI Tech is now called Ablr.

The former tech division of LCI is branching out on its own to launch a joint venture today with Raleigh digital marketing agency Walk West.

Under the new arrangement, the firm will operate as a separate entity to LCI, a manufacturing, distribution, wholesale, retail, and technology services provider, and expand its offerings to include disability inclusion consultancy, in addition to accessibility services.

“By partnering with Walk West, we will now have the experience and expertise of a fast growing digital agency,” John Samuel, the venture’s co-founder and CEO, told WRAL TechWire.

“This will allow us to help companies not only to make their external presence accessible, but also their internal systems, which will then lead to a more inclusive workspace for people of all abilities.”

In early 2019, LCI, one of the largest employers of Americans who are blind or visually impaired with headquarters in Durham, recruited Samuel, who is legally blind, to launch of its tech division. Its mission: to bring firms up to speed on digital accessibility and usability.

It comes down to economics, said Samuel.

In the US, it’s estimated the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities is over $200 billion. The global estimate is nearly $7 trillion.

“The disability market is a big one, and we only expect it to grow,” he said. “We will be there to help businesses tap in to this market, while removing barriers for all people.”

Joining forces

The decision to join forces has been some time in the making.

Samuel said he began discussions with Walk West’s CEO Donald Thompson a little more than a year ago, and realized their missions toward diversity and inclusion aligned.

“Through that relationship, I was introduced to my cofounder, Mike Iannelli, who immediately saw the potential in what we were building at LCI Tech,” he recalled. “He brings years of experience helping grow businesses through sales, analytics, and digital strategy, and I’m super excited to be going through this adventure with him as my partner.”

How it works: As a “disrupter in the accessibility auditing space,” Ablr uses its team of certified auditors — many of whom happen to be blind and low vision — to deliver “holistic testing and usability” of online assets.

Many companies assume automated accessibility solutions will identify these issues. However, Ablr estimates automated checkers usually only catch 25-40 percent of accessibility problems on websites. Their team can do better, it argues

In addition, it will also offer monitoring, remediation, training and corporate consulting services.

“The disability community is an untapped market, and with nearly one billion people globally, it’s a market that businesses cannot ignore,” says Iannelli, Ablr co-founder and chief strategy officer.

“In addition, this community has a high unemployment and underemployment rate. If we can remove the barriers that are causing this, we can help make a significant socioeconomic impact.”

This Thursday, meanwhile, Ablr and Walk West’s The Diversity Movement are hosting a free webinar called “Accessibility + Inclusion for All” in observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

It will feature panelists from Walmart.com, general Motors, NBCUniversal, Ablr and will be moderated by The Diversity Movement. To find out more, go here.