Diversity & Inclusion

Meeting uncertainty with humor

Christopher Werner, a blind employee at Siemens Healthineers, talks about his experiences at work.
Bernward Bodenstedt
Published on 26. April 2021

The blind colleague Christopher Werner, employee at Siemens Healthineers in Germany, believes work should be fun. He also thinks courage is important – not only for himself – and says that it can be a lot easier to get along with others if you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Christopher Werner has a great sense of humor – and it’s not gallows humor but lots of mother wit. Werner works in logistics at Advanced Therapies in Forchheim. Like many of his colleagues, he has been working from home for the past several months. One of his responsibilities is to check inventories of items ranging from software licenses to hardware. It’s also Werner’s job to assign commissioning errors related to our devices to the right project manager so they can be resolved as quickly as possible. “That’s the part of my job that I enjoy the most since it’s never the same and I get to work directly with many different people,” he reports. He has to work meticulously, do regular progress checks, and stay on the ball to ensure that problems are solved fast.
This young man who has been working at Siemens Healthineers for nearly a year now takes his job very seriously, but not necessarily himself. And people appreciate that about him. “When I first joined the department, one of my coworkers said he had seen me in the cafeteria. I replied: But I didn’t see you.” You’ll understand his joke when you learn that Christopher Werner is blind. Colleagues appreciate his sense of humor. Once, when his boss asked him to check on something, Werner answered, “I’ll take a look at it.”

<p>Is it okay for people with disabilities to make fun of themselves? And is it okay for colleagues to laugh when they do? Werner says yes. He doesn’t mean to stir up controversy but rather to assure people. “People are often afraid at first. They’re not sure how to interact with me. I always recommend that they just ask, just talk to me.”<br></p>
<p>Werner has no problem with being blind because he’s learned to live with his blindness all his life. He was born without sight. He attended a school for the blind where he earned his mid-level secondary school leaving certificate and then completed vocational training in office management at the Vocational School for the Blind, followed by a foundation year in Nuremberg. Then, in 2019, he was offered a job at Siemens Healthineers. “That was a great day. I’ve marked it on the calendar,” Werner says with a smile.</p>
<p>Talking with each other is the best way to overcome insecurities and reservations: Christopher Werner (left) with disabled employees’ representative Anna Haberkorn-Wittner (right).<br></p>
Christopher Werner with disabled employees’ representative Anna Haberkorn-Wittner
<p>He quickly finds his way around the office and elsewhere. “Of course, everything’s unfamiliar at first, and I have to ask where things are. But I get a handle on the space pretty fast, so I don’t always have to ask,” says Werner. He learns to match names to voices very quickly, and to recognize each of his coworkers. For him, the voice is the most important identifying feature.</p>
<p>For Werner, the logistics of working from home are the same as working at the office since a PC with assistive technology is his standard means of communication. For example, on his computer he uses a Braille display, an output device specifically designed for blind people that allows him to read what is on the screen in Braille. The screen reader can also provide speech output.</p>

<p>Usually, Werner says, nondisabled people are very careful, sometimes even hesitant when interacting with disabled people. “So far I have had only positive experiences here at Siemens Healthineers. That might be because I try to diffuse people’s anxiety with jokes and a bit of self-deprecation.” His coworkers have learned to read out certain information in video conferences, such as the data on PowerPoint slides, to give Werner acoustic access to it. “Otherwise I just ask, and everyone’s okay with that, too,” says Werner.</p>
<p>He felt at home at Siemens Healthineers from the beginning. “An IT specialist installed the assistive technologies on my computer so I could get right to work.” Disabled employees’ representative Anna Haberkorn-Wittner helps with matters relating to inclusion and integration: “At Siemens Healthineers, we have developed and adopted an inclusion agreement for all of Germany. Together with our management, we’re doing everything we can to integrate disabled employees as best we possibly can.”</p>
<p>One of the assistive technologies Christopher Werner uses at his PC is a Braille display, an output device specifically designed for blind people that allows him to read what is on the screen in Braille.<br></p>
A Braille display allows to read what is on the screen
<p>Werner likes his workspace, but he knows that it’s not easy everywhere. He knows the importance of communicating and overcoming preconceptions that aren’t always expressed openly. “My recommendation is: Be aware of concerns and fears and ask questions. That’s true for disabled and nondisabled people alike. Just take the risk and rather ask too many questions than too few. It’s not just about a colleague’s disability but about getting to know a person better. That’s how respect grows.”</p>

By Bernward Bodenstedt
Bernward Bodenstedt is an editor at Siemens Healthineers