Bertelsmann Sees the Light

The European Year of Disabled People in 2003 provided the perfect opportunity for Bertelsmann – a worldwide media corporation – to launch its disability initiative. Its German companies, which employ around 35% of the group’s 80,000 staff, are taking the initiative to change perceptions of the role of disabled people in professional life, both in and outside of the company. How have they gone about this change? Internal events and a designated intranet discussion forum have served to raise awareness internally of the need for an inclusive work environment. But the communications have gone beyond Bertelsmann’s own workforce: TV commercials breaking down misconceptions of people with disabilities have been broadcast across Germany and Belgium. They will also appear in Slovakia.
A key element of Bertelsmann’s disability initiative is the support offered to its disabled employees. Several innovative aids have been developed to help them perform their job, such as a light signal being placed above a PC work station, so a deaf employee would now when a new message has been received. In autumn 2006, Bertelsmann will launch a new work aid for the visually impaired – a navigation system to use inside large office buildings. Since starting the initiative, Bertelsmann’s German companies have almost doubled the number of disabled employees to 4.5% of their total workforce. According to Knut Weltlich, group representative for the disabled, “the benefits to Bertelsmann’s are clear. We can attract new employees, we better value everyone’s contribution, and we can reduce prejudice inside and outside the company.” Mr Weltlich added, “People with disabilities are as capable as anyone of contributing to company performance. ”
Source: Media company takes inclusion seriously, Equal Rights in Practice Newsletter, Issue 5, Spring 2006, p. 10