Dan Robin on the Amazon campus in Seattle
Dan Robin on the Amazon campus in Seattle

Dan Robin works for Amazon, where his job is to help the company employ people with disabilities.

The Metro Detroit native, who has lived in Seattle for nearly four years, was drawn to his current line of work from a young age — he grew up in a family with a parent who developed mental and physical disabilities as the result of a brain tumor.

“It was always in the back of my head: ‘How do you create as much impact as possible for these folks?’” he says. Building opportunities and fighting for justice on this front is a civil rights issue, he says, adding he hopes to help move the needle on the disability unemployment rate.

As of 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with a disability is 10.5 percent, compared to 4.6 percent for people without a disability.

Today, in his role in corporate human resources at Amazon, he’s helping orchestrate recruitment, training, evaluation and assessment that will transition more people with disabilities into jobs within the company. Amazon tested the model in 2015 with a small cohort, and this year has hundreds of hires at nearly two dozen locations across the country. It’s a good move for business, Robin says, as the hires over-performed in their roles.

“I take that experience growing up and say, ‘How do we charge through this and change expectations?’ If you look at the world as supply and demand, you have these companies who don’t have, I don’t think, high enough expectations for people with disabilities,” he says.

Dave Niekerk, who worked in human resources for Amazon for some 17 years before retiring last year, met Robin a few years back when Robin worked for the Northwest Center, which places people with disabilities in jobs, including at the time with Amazon’s reception desks. The two met and discussed how to facilitate more such positions within Amazon. Their initiative grew successfully, Niekerk recalls, and when a job opening came up, Robin joined Amazon.

“What I most enjoy about Dan is that he is relentless in his advocacy for people with disabilities, and his ability to connect with others, to be able to get them to understand the possibilities,” Niekerk says.

With Amazon creating so many new jobs across the country right now, Niekerk says, “This could really be a game-changer for employing people with disabilities, and Dan could be at the forefront of that.”

Robin, who attended University of Michigan for his bachelor’s degree in political science and his master’s degree in social work, moved to Downtown Detroit from Ann Arbor in 2010. He was active in — and lived across the street from — the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.

There, he met Dennis Blender, an organizational psychologist and Ph.D. Their paths crossed again at a workforce development-focused leadership academy.

“Dan is really bright, very energetic, very enthusiastic and very committed to helping others,” Blender said. “And he is on a path to do whatever he can to change the world for those in need,” particularly those with developmental challenges.

Karen Schwartz Contributing Writer