Working With Disabilities at the Fraunhofer ITWM

Diversity and inclusion are part of the corporate philosophy of our institute. We want people with disabilities to be able to contribute their talents and qualifications to us without restriction. The environment is built to support their strengths; people with and without disabilities work together as a matter of course.

For this reason, the interests of employees with disabilities at the Institute are particularly supported by the Representative for Severely Disabled Employees. Ina Lammel is a doctoral student in the Division »Optimization« and has been representing her colleagues in this position since 2022. She is a PhD student at the Fraunhofer ITWM since November 2019 and started already in 2018 as a student at our institute.

What are the tasks of the representative body for severely disabled persons? What does this mean in practice? Can you give us some examples?

On the one hand, the task of the Representation of Severely Disabled Persons is to keep an eye on the implementation of the legal requirements according to SGB IX. On the other hand, I am also the contact person for the concerns of our severely disabled employees and our severely disabled applicants. This can range from passing on information to assistance in various topics to determining workplace requirements. The latter I pass on to the Institute management and we try to find a solution that suits everyone.

What are the special features of employment of people with disabilities?

This question cannot be answered in one sentence, as different topics become relevant depending on the type of severe disability. In general, however, there are severe disabilities that make full-time employment impossible due to excessive physical strain. Our institute counteracts this problem quite well with its part time options. Other disabilities that make it necessary to adapt the workplace to the disability. Here, too, we do our utmost to make the employees' working day as pleasant as possible.

What does this mean for people with disabilities who apply to Fraunhofer ITWM?

During the application phase, applicants with a severe disability are given preference for an open job position if they are equally qualified as the other applicants. During the job interview itself I will join in and make sure that there is no discrimination due to their severe disability in the selection process. If the severely handicapped applicants do not want this for whatever reason, I will of course stay away from the interviews.

What structural measures have been taken to facilitate the work?

In the field of barrier-free mobility, a lot has happened at our institute in recent years. There is a disabled toilet on the ground floor and on the third floor. Furthermore, all entrances are accessible without thresholds and the first automatic doors have been installed. For the future, we have set ourselves the goal of taking more account of accessibility in new buildings and when converting existing buildings. I am also committed to ensuring that we take greater account of the views and requirements of people with different limitations and needs when designing modern offices.

Working with Disablities at the ITWM
© Andi Weiland | Boehringer Ingelheim,
This is also part of the field of barrier-free mobility: elevators connect all floors of the institute.

Do you notice any points in the everyday life at the Institute that should be focused on in the future, and which future improvements still need some work?

We have already started to work on structural changes and will continue to do so. That's what I currently consider to be the most important point. If the severely handicapped employees were to feel uncomfortable in their everyday work for any reason whatsoever, this would naturally come first. However, neither I myself nor the other severely disabled colleagues have had this experience.

How do you experience the work at the Fraunhofer ITWM as a wheelchair user?

Here I have the opportunity to work on exciting issues in a great team – basically, my work is no different from that of my colleagues.

At the Fraunhofer ITWM, my disability was never made into something special, while at the same time I received a lot of helpfulness and support in breaking down barriers.

For example, I have difficulty operating heavy fire doors. While at the beginning of my time at the Fraunhofer ITWM colleagues helped me to get into the building, at the same time they worked hard to convert the doors that were most important to me to an electric door opening system. This commitment is not a matter of course and I am very grateful for it.

If you need help, how does it feel to talk to colleagues?

The colleagues are all very helpful. My aim, of course, is to ensure that I do not have to rely on outside help.

What do you wish for the future?

I would like it to become more commonplace to employ people with a disability. The more buildings are equipped barrier-free and the more aids are available to compensate for various limitations, the more the applicant's abilities, regardless of disability, can come into focus. I am very pleased that the ITWM is setting a good example.