Business / Reading time: ~ 2 Min.

“I feel I can make a difference”

Gisela Grell, IT Senior Specialist, is DHL Freight’s contact person for severely disabled employees. On International Day of People with Disabilities, she gives us an insight into her voluntary work.

How did you become a volunteer?

Roughly nine years ago, there was a vote to elect somebody to represent severely disabled employees (Schwerbehindertenvertretung – SBV) at DHL Freight’s head office. As I was already a  member of the works council and am severely disabled myself as someone who suffers from MS, I put myself forward as a candidate. Franz Ellinger, the general representative for severely disabled employees at the time, was very charismatic and pushed me a bit.

As a representative for severely disabled employees, what do you do?

Essentially, my job is to keep the flag flying so that the severely disabled are not overlooked when decisions are made. Each representative body for severely disabled employees looks after the concerns of severely disabled employees at the various Freight locations. Their work could concern installing automatic doors or eliminating tripping hazards, for example.

The Representative Body for Severely Disabled Employees (Gesamtschwerbehindertenvertretung – GSBV), on the other hand, is responsible for matters that affect the entire company. By the way, you can also be actively involved in the representative body for severely disabled employees even if you are not severely disabled yourself.

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Did you know that almost one in ten people in Germany has a severe disability? Out of a total of 7.9 million severely disabled people, around 3.4 million are under the age of 65.

How do you reconcile your voluntary work with your regular job at DHL Freight?

I keep a monthly list of the tasks I need to complete so that my boss knows to what extent I am currently involved in my activities as a representative. But there are lots of things that can’t be planned, such as spontaneous calls from colleagues.

Often it’s just a matter of getting the okay, but there are also days when I get one call after the next about complex issues.

What appeals to you about the role?

As a general representative for severely disabled employees, I work closely with the other 14 SBV representatives in the area. I really enjoy it. Our regular discussions are helpful and productive, and the other representatives often ask me for advice. It’s a great feeling to be able to support each other. I really feel I can make a difference.

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Every year on December 3, International Day of Persons with Disabilities seeks to raise global awareness of the needs of people with disabilities and promote advocacy for their dignity and rights. This year, the theme of the day is “United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for, with and by persons with disabilities”.

What do you especially remember during your nine years working for the representative body for severely disabled employees?

In 2020, a colleague who works in the Freight head office suddenly suffered a life-changing aneurysm (brain hemorrhage and stroke).

Working with the specialist integration service, I was able to accomplish a great deal for him and ensure he kept his job.

How much prominence do severely disabled people receive in day-to-day work life?

Unfortunately, very little. Nevertheless, as representatives we can make a difference by shifting the focus onto severely disabled employees. We do this in collaboration with various institutions such as Germany’s Office for Integration, its specialist integration service and the employment agency.

Given the current shortage of skilled workers, now especially we are able to help employers by recruiting severely disabled people.

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In Germany, companies with 20 or more employees need to ensure that at least five percent of their workforce is severely disabled. Should a company fail to meet this requirement, it must make monthly compensation payments to a branch of Germany’s Office for Integration.

How can severely disabled people be given better opportunities to participate?

By repeatedly drawing attention to the fact that most severely disabled people do a great job, are rarely ill and prove to be highly committed should they be given a chance.

Every severely disabled person who can make the jump from a sheltered workshop to the primary labor market is a win-win situation for both sides – the disabled person and the employer!

In what way?

If, for example, a hearing-impaired colleague works in a warehouse, it doesn’t take long for the other colleagues to become attuned to them and their needs. If staff are attentive and considerate, the workplace atmosphere improves as a whole. And people who work in good working environments usually achieve better results.

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