Editor’s note: Innovation Thursday – a deep dive into a newly emerging technology or companies – is a regular feature at WRAL TechWire. This week we focus on new initiatives that reduce barriers to workforce development. 


RALEIGH — John Samuel is passionate about removing barriers for all people with disabilities. And that includes within his company’s workforce development program, Ablr Works.

Ablr Works was designed to create pathways for employment for people with disabilities, Samuel told WRAL TechWire. But when a candidate first joins the program, they work with Ablr Works to assess their skills and needs—and to identify any potential barriers—before they jump into other programming.

“The first two candidates who started, they were both individuals who were in college, going into the health care profession, and they lost their vision. It’s similar to myself, where I started losing sight later in life, and I had to learn how to use my assistive technology immediately,” said Samuel.

Photo courtesy of John Samuel

John Samuel in his office

These candidates had a chance to “upskill” and learn more about assistive technology before entering the main program curriculum, Samuel said.

“When we start off with a candidate, we will hold that assessment with them to really see, what is their experience, what is their level of professionalism,” said Liv Evans, Project Coordinator for Ablr. “And we’d have a practical technology portion of that assessment, where they’ll go through different tasks on professional platforms, and we’ll see where they are in terms of being able to really navigate the computer for those practical purposes of day-to-day needs on a computer.”

Samuel, who’s both CEO of Ablr, a disability inclusion and accessibility business, and author of Don’t Ask the Blind Guy for Directions!, says that this upskilling opportunity can help candidates learn about tech, assistive technology, or professionalism—before they enter the main program.

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And while not all candidates will go through this upskilling milestone—some will skip straight to the main program or “core curriculum”—Samuel says the upskilling milestone has been a crucial support piece to the program.

“It makes it unique versus some of the other programs where they just, if you don’t make it, it’s sink or swim, if you can make it into that hardcore technical skill,” said Samuel.

Emphasis on certification

The program is designed to create pathways for people with disabilities to enter into a tech career.

Once candidates reach the core curriculum, they learn the skills and content necessary to take the internationally recognized Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) exam, a certification that can lead to a role as a Digital Analyst, Accessibility Analyst, or Accessibility Engineer.

“We are working them towards an internationally or nationally recognized certification,” said Evans. “These are marketable certifications that are recognized on that level, not just a, ‘Hey, you have a certificate from Ablr.'”

Evans says that in the future, Ablr Works hopes to offer additional certification training opportunities in spaces like customer care, cybersecurity, and Salesforce.

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Cohort graduated in July

A cohort of candidates just “graduated” from the core curriculum program last July 2023, and two of those candidates already have job offers, Samuel told me.

He asks that company leaders across the Triangle contact Ablr to talk about internship, job shadowing, and employment opportunities.

“If people are interested in exploring how to pilot an internship with us, program with us, or employment, those are really good call to actions,” said Samuel.

Partnership with NC’s Divison of Services for the Blind

Currently, candidates are referred to Ablr Works through North Carolina’s Division of Services for the Blind, a part of NC Health and Human Services.

Ablr has a year-to-year contract with this division to provide workforce development training—something Samuel’s driven to support through his personal experience as a person who is blind.

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“It took two years for us to get this contract,” said Samuel. “But during that time, we were able to refine and develop this program. And now it’s becoming a model that other states are all looking at, because they have access to the same federal funding and state funding to be able to launch these type of programs.”

Samuel called this first partnership with NC’s Division of Services for the Blind an example of “innovative” thinking from the state.

“What makes North Carolina one of the best places for business is that NC Health and Human Services, Division of Services for the Blind, wanted to be innovative, working with us to really kind of tap into this workforce,” said Samuel.

And Evans shared that the team hopes to expand the program not just to other states but also to other impact areas, including more disability groups, such as Deaf/Hard of Hearing communities and those with chronic illness and learning disabilities.

“What we consider the big goal of our program is getting folks into jobs,” said Evans. “We don’t want them to just go through a training. We think it is so, so important to actually get these folks working. That is our biggest focus, by far.”