Erika Lopez wears a smile on her face that’s infectious to everyone around her at Amazon. But that smile belies the challenges Lopez often faced through many years of just trying to get a foot in the door at a full-time or part-time job.
“There are some who don't like having people like us, disability people, at their job,” said Lopez.
But that is no longer a problem the 26-year-old faces, thanks to a unique program she found through Northwest Center, a Seattle nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find jobs and keep them.
“Many people have barriers to accessing opportunities, and so part of our mission is to really figure out innovative ways to remove those barriers,” said Sarah Parsons, director, NWC Connect at Northwest Center.
Parsons works with Amazon to place hundreds of people, like Lopez, into the workplace as part of the Amazon Alternative Workforce Supplier Program (AWSP), and the early results have been positive for those with disabilities, and for the company. Amazon’s Dan Robin, who helps run the program, says AWSP associates at participating Amazon sites have shown better quality and average productivity when compared to what are often seen as more traditional workforce programs.
“In the field of disability inclusion, programs like this are very rare,” said Parsons. “This program, and what Amazon has discovered by being willing to try something new, means that we are onto something.”
By not only accepting nontraditional talent, but actively seeking it out, the Amazon program has built new job opportunities for people who have often had a hard time gaining full-time or part-time employment. The program, while still in its infancy, has lofty goals to continue growing.
For Lopez, who just needed a little help getting started, the result has been a dream job. She relishes her daily shift at Amazon’s Prime Now facility in Seattle, where she picks items for delivery alongside a diverse employee base, and is treated no differently than anyone else.
“I feel proud here,” she said. “Without (Northwest Center's) help it would be hard for me. I like this job so much!”
As the presenting sponsor of the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle this July, Amazon is committed to giving opportunities to people of all backgrounds.
Amazon employs people with disabilities across its entire business, from roles focused on the accessibility features of products to positions not related to accessibility, including engineering, design, product management, operations, and senior management roles.
Lopez, who went from not knowing how to get a job to becoming a model Amazonian, may sum it up best: “If we work together we will accomplish our goals and dreams.”