Transcript: All Access with John Samuel Episode 9 with Mike Iannelli

John Samuel:

This is John Samuel, and I’m the host of all access with John Samuel. This is the show where we share the stories of entrepreneurs, advocates, and leaders who are improving the lives for people of all abilities. And today we have a special guest of Mike Iannelli, who’s my co-founder and chief strategy officer at ablr. And I’m so excited to be interviewing him today, on our first episode of the year. And I’m just excited to talk with you. So thanks Mike.

Mike Iannelli:

I’m happy to be here, John, you know it, and I’m glad to be part of this. I’m honored to be part of this show, especially to kicking off the first of the year. So great to be here, excited to get going.

John Samuel:

No. Awesome. You know, the reason I thought that we’d start the year, just kind of talking with you is that ablr, we launched just a few months ago and we’ve learned so much in just the last two months. And as we go into 2021, it’s a huge year for us. We really want to spread the word and raise awareness, and I thought it was a fitting to have you on because your story and how we met and how you really have become an advocate for the disability community, even though you don’t have a disability yourself. And I’d love to just kind of hear and learn about your experience as we created the joint venture and what you learned and what are the takeaways and what are you advocating for as a result?

Mike Iannelli:

Well, there’s a lot there and I don’t think we have enough time to cover how much I’ve learned because it’s been a tremendous amount, John, and, you know, firsthand, I mean, from starting the entire web ablr360.com and getting a true sense of, you know, I came from an agency background and client side had been building websites and launching marketing campaigns and running analytics for 20 years, but I’ve never been exposed to, you know, until six to nine months ago, what true accessibility and usability meant. Andyou know, obviously working with our team of, folks, our analysts that have disabilities working with you very closely and then when we went through our entire brand development exercise and web exercise, I really was very naive to what it took to actually, you know, not only identify violations, but what did it mean to remediate them?

Mike Iannelli:

How do we validate them? And the sheer amount of effort, you know, from, from my perspective, I was just, again, like a lot of the folks who you’re talking to are just thinking, well, if I have my alt text in place and I have the right contrast, you know, and I’m trying to do the basics, then it’s okay. And I think what we’re learning is there is a, a huge gap in awareness. And, I don’t think it’s a fault. I think when I originally started John, I thought it was, I almost got a little defensive in a way that, that people didn’t care. You know, I thought, “Oh, well, no one cares about folks with disabilities in the community” That’s just wrong. And that’s probably the old, the old perspective of Mike and, and spending the time with you and the team and folks like, even when we went out for our team meeting down as a whiskey river, I think it was whiskey kitchen.

Mike Iannelli:

You know, just, just really just diving into another perspectives life. And it was, I, it was absolutely eyeopening to me because, you know, I tried to rush Kevin the whole time, right? Like, come on, you know, we gotta get this done. This is not that big of a deal. And now I look at it as you know, it really is about an equal playing field, you know, and the fact that today that we’re not providing experiences for folks that have impairments or disabilities, and it’s almost like this very selfish, “like it’s not affecting me, so, so why do I have to care?” And as we talk to hundreds and thousands of people, it’s not about, they don’t care. It’s, it’s actually the opposite. They do care. They’re just not aware of it. They’re not clear of what the guidelines are.

Mike Iannelli:

How do you do it? Why do you do it? How often do you have to audit and make sure your site’s accessible? So, you know, obviously I think those are the two larger ones was how much effort it really takes to build not just a compliant experience, but an accessible one and a usable one. And that’s an effort and a commitment, and frankly it should be, you know, what we’re driving for. You know, when we talk about mission is it’s really about instituting best practices, just like we do with SEO, just like we do with CMS, but it should be accessibility should be number one in every digital asset that’s being developed, it should be thought of the first thing it should be thought of. And so it’s fantastic for me personally, to be, you know, to experience that and to be part of it.

John Samuel:

Yeah. Yeah. I remember when we had that, we were discussing it when you were, you mentioned the Kevin situation and we were talking about the website design and the, the kind of, not the drama between the developer and the accessibility team, but there was that aha moment where you got it. And I thought that experience was, was really the game changing moment, that pivotal moment in our startup history where you really, I know you, you understood the need for accessibility. You, you got the, you know, what we were trying to build like that, that there was that pivotal moment that you change and you know, what does that mean for you and how have you kind of taken that, that aha moment and now spread it to the people you’re talking to?

Mike Iannelli:

Well, in a lot of ways, John, I mean, you and I have talked a lot when we’ve come together, you know, over the last year. And I think as friends, as partners and as, you know, community advocates and folks, and that aha moment, I, and I remember very clear, you know, I came into this project and this, this, this joint venture from a completely different perspective. I came into it as an agency, veteran, a data guy, a branding guy, and I’m going to produce something and build something that’s going to be amazing and fun. But that moment it really changed my life. I mean, I, it just did in so many ways, and you know, that this, this past year for me personally has been, my whole life has been an aha moment, but, but part of being, being part of something that has so much meaning and fulfillment in life and knowing that, you know, crossing the aisle, so to speak, to just become just a good human, you know, I always thought I was a good human, but I didn’t feel like I knew.

Mike Iannelli:

I felt like I was very much in my own space. You know, like if it didn’t affect me, it was very selfish to be quite honest with you. If it didn’t affect me, then, then it wasn’t something I could spend my time on. I had enough things going on, but when you take a deep breath and you’re in your, in your life is put into this moment and you, you meet people and you talk to people and you open your heart and your mind to just that everyone deserves the same experience, no matter disability, color, ethnicity, background, gender profile, we’re just humans. And the fact that all these years that I’ve been not, you know, I spent 20 years in e-commerce and It wasn’t even a blip in my head. And I feel bad about that. So my mission is to, you know, again, it’s what we talked about, accessibility, usability for everyone.

Mike Iannelli:

The aha was, was a life-changing moment, you know, everything in my life changed. And, and, you know, the way I, way I speak to people, the way I communicate, the way I talk to my children, the way I overcome objections, the way I, the way I think of my daily life, the way I drive, the way I shop, the way I purchase everything. And I think being part of this experience with ablr, and I think why you’re seeing ablr the success of ablr is it’s not about, you know, we’re a business, right? So we have to obviously pay our team salaries and, and grow our business. But at the end of the day, it’s, it’s it’s business second, right. It’s mission first. And that is something that I’ve never been able to say in my professional career. And it’s something I’m honored to be part of.

John Samuel:

That’s awesome. You know, you talked about that, that 20 year history and e-commerce, and your experience working in agencies. So what is one thing you would like to tell agencies about why and how, you know, they should be including accessibility in their offerings?

Mike Iannelli:

Well, I think that the, the biggest thing again, is, you know, think about more than yourself and more than the profit, you know, think about changing the world because you know, these, the agencies and web development companies, all the businesses out there that are on the front lines with clients and brands, I believe they have a responsibility to change the world. Right. And so, as you, obviously, as, you know, as our ablr ally program that we’re trying to build is if they’re truly on the front lines with 50, 60, 70, a hundred clients, they have a higher likelihood of supporting our mission of changing the world faster. You know, so one at a time is great for us, right? There’s an honor when we bring on accounts and we partner with accounts, and we just feel this connection together, but an agency might be able to raise awareness and generate a lot more impact for the community by, you know, instead of us doing one at a time, we might be able to do 10, 15, 20.

Mike Iannelli:

And the biggest thing is the installation of a best practice for every web project that happens. So when we talk to the agencies, not just in North Carolina or South Carolina, but even in California, New York, it’s really connecting the dots of how do we change a paradigm that has been going on for probably almost 30 years now, how do we start to Institute best practices today and follow the new mission and vision of what we’re trying to do. So ablr is really trying to instill that best practice. So we don’t always have to go back and retrofit. We don’t always have to go back and say, oops, I forgot to do that. It’s top of mind, every single time that any asset is developed, whether it’s an application, a website I mean, we’re even doing accessibility audits on billboards which I’d never even thought we could do. So color contrasting font, styling, kerning style. I mean, it’s an impressive time. And agencies, I believe are really the allies that are going to help us spread the good word, help us spread our mission. And honestly not just change the business mindset, but change the internal personal mindset as well.

John Samuel:

No, I love it, man. You know, the ablr allies program is something that you and I truly believe in. We think it’s, what’s going to be game-changing for not only just for ablr, but for all the organizations in our community,

Mike Iannelli:

We talk almost every day about what we envisioned for ablr. But one of the things that I think would be great to talk about from your perspective is ablr works. And what does that mean to you? What does that mean to the community and frankly, your professional future and what that means to ablr? So I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, John.

New Speaker:

Thank you. This is the first time anyone’s ever asked me a question, on the show. So thank you. Ablr works is the new division that we’re hoping to launch this this quarter. It’s really focused on the people part of the equation. When we think about ablr360, our core business, that’s really about focused on making sure that companies are inclusive and accommodating and accessible for all people. But we realized that it’s a, it’s a two-way street. We need to make sure that once those companies are ready, we are also making sure that the people are also trained and ready. So, you know, that’s what I’m super excited about this year, us getting that launched and up and running and you know, creating a new pathway for employment for people in the disability community. And then also, you know, one of the big things I’m looking forward to in 2021 is the, is there are training modules. We have a new disability inclusion training modules that we are launching at the end of March. So anyone interested please reach out to us. And,lets pre-order those because that’s going to be game changing. And so there’s a lot to be excited for, and I’m so thankful for you to take the time to speak. And, you know, I urge everyone to . Check out Mike on LinkedIn. And what other social media are you on?

Mike Iannelli:

I’m rocking it on TikTok right now. No, I’m kidding. Linkedin, my friend. I am, I’m taking a, taking a break from the personal social platforms, but, but LinkedIn and obviously cell phones always available. I just want to talk to as many people as I can and, and, you know, share and educate folks on what we’re doing. And there’s a lot of other great companies out there that are doing it as well. So it’s, it’s really just a, a mission for all of us. And I’m excited about the future of where we’re going for inclusion and equity

John Samuel:

How should people reach out to you?

Mike Iannelli:

They can well, would it be wrong to give my cell phone? Let me go ahead and do that phone is area code (484) 459-9990. And then my email is Michael M I C H a E L dot Iannelli which is I A two N’s E two L’s and an I @ablr360.com or just, you can search for me on Google as well, but I’m excited about it, willing and happy to talk to anybody about it. And it’s an honor to be working with you, my friend.

John Samuel:

Thanks.