Meet the Bay Area adults with disabilities making a difference in the robotics industry

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and we are highlighting a group of Bay Area adults with disabilities

Luz Pena Image
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
Meet the Bay Area adults with disabilities in the robotics industry
Omron, a Bay Area robotics company, is giving adults with disabilities a chance to thrive in their careers.

PLEASANTON, Calif. (KGO) -- October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and we are highlighting a group of Bay Area adults with disabilities making a difference in the robotics industry.

ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena spoke with the young adults who are hoping their job opens doors for others in their community.

It's 6 a.m. on a weekday morning. Tim Zalewski grabs his safety glasses and is ready to build.

"This is the unit and you have to use this wrench," said Zalewski.

Zalewski showed us around his new job at Omron an electronics company in Pleasanton.

Luz Pena: "What do you think about this place?

Tim Zalewski: "I think it's kind of awesome."

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Tim got hired a month ago after excelling as an intern at Omron. Getting that call is still a bit surreal for him.

Tim Zalewski: "Realizing that I got hired for a full timer."

Luz Pena: "You never thought that was a possibility?"

Tim Zalewski: "Yeah. Because I thought it would be really impossible since Omron is a really busy company."

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He comes to work knowing that his role is vital to build robots. He is part of team.

Tim Zalewski: "It just feels like I'm starting a new adventure."

Luz Pena: "What is the adventure bringing you so far?"

Tim Zalewski: "Well, becoming an adult and also working with feels like I'm actually making friends. Adult friends."

One of his friends is Joseph Carter.

"I do LED light for the top desk," said Carter.

Carter is an intern now, but is inspired by Zalewski's story.

Luz Pena: "Do you like your job?"

Joseph Carter: "Yes."

Luz Pena: "What do you like about it?"

Joseph Carter: "Working with people and friends."

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The one who first saw potential in Zalewski and Carter is their mentor Jessie Sito.

"I gave him a set of tools and he knew what they were. He knew how to handle it. That kind of showed me that he has some mechanical skills," said Jessie Sito, Omron Safety team lead and mentor, "We kind of grew on that curiosity. We harnessed it."

Pleasanton Adult and Career Education or PACE for short is an adult school within the Pleasanton school district that prepares adults with disabilities for the workforce paying them to intern at different companies.

In the last 5 years, about 56 adults with disabilities have learned key skills to find jobs in this community. Omron is one of the 25 sites they're working with.

"We give them 3 different work experiences. We help them get as many transferable work skills as possible so they can get a job at the end of the 9 month program that matches what they want to do," said Jamie Renton, Adults with disabilities transition specialist.

For example, Cole Reppas is learning to take technical orders but his dream is a bit different

"To become an executive chef and own my own restaurant," said Reppas.

His mentor understands him.

"It feels really good. I actually have two steps sons that are both autistic and in their 20's, so for me, I know how difficult it is for them. I deal with it every day," said Oscar Lemus, Omron Receiving Clerk and mentor.

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Omron is one of the first factories to hire people with disabilities over 50 years ago in Japan.

Teng Zhang with Omron Human Resources said in 1972, Omron was first factory in Kyoto, Japan to hire people with disabilities.

"That factory has more than 50% of the workforce are people with disabilities," she said.

Now Zalewski is carrying on that legacy in the United States.

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