"Seeing" with the Fingers - Technology and Team Spirit Create Jobs for Blind Colleagues

By Hermann Pertrick , Ruhrgas AG, Essen (originally published in "gas ette", the Ruhrgas AG employee magazine) – February 18, 2002

German version

Business trips are considered an everyday part of the job by many Ruhrgas employees. Naturally, these expenses must be balanced down to the last cent. The travel audit team makes sure that everyone gets their expenses reimbursed as quickly as possible. One of them is Hermann Petrick. He checks travel expenses on the PC. For this purpose, he doesn't use a screen like his colleagues. Petrick reads the data with his fingers, as he is blind.

There is no doubt that this is an unusual task for somebody with this kind of handicap. "When I lost my sight five years ago due to an eye disease, I never thought I would one day be doing such a job," Petrick remembers. Before he became ill, the expenses auditor had been working in finance since 1972 at PLE (Pipeline Engineering), which belongs to Ruhrgas. Thus, figures always been part of his profession.

"The doctor's diagnosis that I would never see again, was naturally very hard for me," says Petrick. "But I had to come to terms with it and knew from the start that I could not bury my head in the sand." There's hope in his voice as he recounts this. Research in ophthalmology is constantly progressing. For a whole year, he went to a school for the blind in Düren to learn to deal with being blind in daily life. One of the things he learnt there was to walk confidently with a stick. Also, he was taught the braille alphabet. And there are two kinds of alphabet: long and short hand. Petrick has mastered both. Whereas others need a year, he learnt it in nine months. His good memory helped him a lot, as well as his ambition. He was even able to give his fellow students extra coaching.

After his rehabilitation, Petrick turned to Gerrit Pilat, Ruhrgas representative for the severely handicapped. Together with the works committee and the personnel department, they found a new job for him in their head office in Essen. Since May 2000, he has been checking employees' travel expenses without additional receipts. In order for him to start work as soon as possible, various specialized departments in the company, as well as the new colleagues, discussed how to equip his workplace. "We first had to see what was technically possible," remembers Georg von Schwanewede, who helped organize his workplace. "For this we worked hand in hand with Christine Bensberg, the travel management manager in the IT department. Everybody pulled together. The colleagues also agreed that they wanted to support the new colleague completely."


Blindows Makes it All Possible

"When I first started here, my office was fitted out with everything needed for a blind person," Petrick praises the company's commitment. The braille display on his PC translates the given data into braille. This is done by "Blindows", a special software for all computer programs. "All menu items are transferred to the braille display," explains Petrick. If he wants, he can also make the computer speak. The auditor doesn't use this function very much though. On his table, a typewriter with braille sits next to the computer. He uses this as a notepad.

"At the beginning we didn't think a blind person could do this job at all. Today he checks whole trips without any kind of help," praises Simone Berger, manager of the travel auditing office at Ruhrgas. "He ususally only has questions about places he doesn't know." Petrick is convinced he couldn't have found a better job. "My colleagues made my job easier for me from the start and completely integrated me into the team. I was accepted here as if I belonged here. That was really great for me. Outsiders also see it like this: For Susanne Satzger, from the Service for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Employment for the Rheinland region, such integration of a visually impaired employee is exemplary.


Sport is his Hobby

And what does he do in his free time?

"In my free time it can get interesting; in other words, 'boredom' is foreign to me. I can almost manage by myself at home, I live in a 75 m2 flat, and am a "passionate ironer". Sport was always my favorite hobby, which I still do now that I am blind. Whereas I used to be an active football player, I am now manager of a company football team. I do some tandem cycling in two cycling teams, one of them the Essen Disabled Sports Group, and the other the Ruhrgas sports team. For me to be able to participate in the cycling group, the company got me a tandem bike, which is fantastic and I would have never thought it possible, because not all companies would do this.

My twelve year-old son also fills my time. I am divorced, and my son lives with his mother, but stays with me almost every weekend. There's nothing better and I always look forward to our weekends and holidays together enormously. That way, I stay young and it keeps me on my toes. Also, I write poems, and sometimes wish the day had more than 24 hours. But this is certainly better than not knowing what to do with myself. For this reason, I can only advise people not to rely on others, but to always set goals for themselves in order to keep busy. What's most important is to never give up hope, courage, or lust for life. On that note, let's get on with it!"

(c) gasette, Ruhrgas AG.


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