Nikolas: Understanding the Risks and New Routines of Being an Essential Worker During COVID-19


Nikolas is 22 years old and works for Amazon at Whole Foods in Providence, Rhode Island as a personal shopper. In this job, he uses an Amazon phone that receives the customers’ orders and payments. Nikolas fulfills the customers’ requests, bags the items and labels the bags in preparation for delivery. He began working in this position before COVID-19 hit, finding the job after participating in a one-year school-to-work program called Project Search. In this program, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) receive work skills training for part of the day, and work in paid jobs for the remainder. Nikolas received job supports through the Perspectives Corporation, and his direct support provider, Adrienne Tipple.

What’s important
As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and the risks of working became apparent, Nikolas met with family members, residential providers, and his job coach , Adrienne. Together they reviewed the details and concerns related to COVID-19, ensuring he understood the significance of risk. They reviewed in great detail the proper safety and cleanliness precautions Nikolas would have to commit to in order to stay healthy and protect the people with whom he lives. Nikolas understood the risks, what he would need to do, and decided to continue. According to Nikolas, he made the choice that he wanted to keep working because he is young and healthy and “wanted to do his part to help others who are more at risk, so they can stay safe."

In addition to committing to his own safety precautions, Whole Foods implemented new procedures including restricting the number of customers, adding arrows to navigate the store in a socially distanced manner, and providing personal protective equipment to employees. Together with his job coach, Nikolas learned to abide by the directional arrows, properly wear his PPE, and create a hygiene and sanitizing routine.

What happened
Through ongoing support around the new safety demands, Nikolas has continued to successfully remain employed as an essential worker. He has adapted to many new routines including being responsible for his own masks, regular hand washing, and washing his work clothes at the end of the day. He receives ongoing support about maintaining the 6-foot social distancing regulation at work, and limiting his interactions with other community members. According to his job coach, “Nikolas…is so proud of himself for helping out and doing his part to help others stay safe”. He is grateful to remain employed when so many are unable to work, and he has a great passion to be successful. Most recently, Nikolas’s job coach reports the ability to fade supports to phone-based check-ins or occasional visits to the store. The focus of his ongoing virtual support is around staying informed about COVID-19 and maintaining the routines he has had to adopt. He’s being supported to stay informed about how to honor his choice to safely continue to work, and avoid the consequences of putting himself and other people at risk.

Lessons Learned

  • Nikolas benefitted from decision-making support from professionals and family members to ensure he understood the risks and new precautions he would have to take in order to continue to work.
  • With support, Nikolas learned many new skills including social distancing and cleanliness routines to keep himself and others healthy.
  • Nikolas’s training, job coaching, and personal commitment to work enabled him to maintain a valuable essential worker position, which was extremely beneficial to others in his community.