If you were in a meeting with somebody who was chewing gum throughout, you might think they were being rude.
Think again. Like Heike, they may be suffering from a rheumatic condition called Sicca syndrome, which can cause severely dry mouth. By chewing gum, Sicca sufferers can talk, eat, laugh and be valued contributors to meetings and everyday conversations. Other symptoms of Sicca include dry eyes causing pain at night (or outside when it’s sunny or windy) as well as fatigue.
“Sicca is part of Sjorgen syndrome, which often appears alongside other rheumatic diseases. This means I also have arthritis and have had many hip operations which have added to my Sicca symptoms.”
Despite her condition, Heike tries to be thankful for everything she has, maintaining a positive outlook and engaging in many activities.
“I do yoga, go swimming, and I try to go for an hour long walk every day, no matter the weather. I enjoy making fancy food and drink for friends when they come over. I also love a good book; I was so happy to buy my first English book in 2002 from Amazon.com. I knew one day I would work for such a great company!”
Heike joined Amazon as a Customer Service Associate in 2019. This involves supporting customers’ product or delivery issues via phone, e-mail or webchat, helping to make their lives easier.
“Like many disabled persons, I understand what it means to struggle and feel vulnerable. I believe this experience makes us ideal for customer service roles, because we can empathize with the customer; whatever they are going through, we’ve probably been through it ourselves.”
Solving problems and helping customers is what initially attracted Heike to the role. But a key factor in staying at Amazon has been the way the company supports people with disabilities.
“I have never felt so ‘comfortable’ with my condition as I have with Amazon. I get all the support I need, including from leadership. Confidence for disabled people is very important, so it’s great to see that we are truly welcome and can thrive here like anybody else.”
Heike is the Amazon representative for people with disabilities in Amazon’s Virtual Customer Service team in Germany. She advocates every day for equality and accessibility on behalf of others as well as herself. She believes it’s important to ensure representation of disabled persons to act as the voice of customers and employees with disabilities.
“At Amazon we say that it’s always day 1, and that also applies to accessibility. We won’t always be perfect but we can make improvements to our products by including accessible features, or accommodating the requirements of candidates who need it most.”
Find out more about Amazon’s Customer Service team.