SAP’s Representative Body for People with Severe Disabilities

Siegfried Peisl, who represents employees with severe disabilities at SAP, describes an average workday at a global corporation from the perspective of colleagues like these.

Siegfried Peisl

Besides having worked in various development and support roles at the company since 1991, Siegfried has been the elected confidant of SAP’s severely disabled employees since 2007.  His career in representing the severely disabled actually began in 2004, when the company resolved to establish the Representative Body for People with Severe Disabilities (SBV) following a survey of affected colleagues. The members of this body are elected every four years.

Siegfried remembers how it was in the beginning: “Back then, we approached things in a pretty straightforward way.” The group started by making sure Braille signs were added to meeting rooms, stairwells, and restrooms and seeing to the specific needs of each individual. Slowly but surely, its members realized that there were also legal parameters that needed to be taken into account. The growing number of those affected at SAP was another factor that led the SBV to develop more systematic methods.

Today, the body is an integral element of the company that performs a wide range of functions.

Responsibilities of the SBV

SAP is committed to ensuring equal treatment of the some 600 severely disabled people it employs across Germany, which means the assistance it provides to those with hearing or vision impairments or reduced mobility is quite extensive. For example, the company makes every effort to provide those in wheelchairs with barrier-free entrances, ramps, and elevators they can use instead of stairs. Support from the SBV also extends far beyond “visible” disabilities to cover those affected by cancer, MS, Parkinson’s, and other serious illnesses.

In very large meeting rooms, employees with impaired hearing can have their colleagues’ words transmitted wirelessly to their hearing aids. SAP even provides access to a mobile wide-area transmitter for conferences involving large numbers of employees.

These days, the SBV is also involved in the planning of new buildings from the very beginning. Among other things, this helps ensure that key reference points are already equipped with guide systems and marked in Braille. That said, it’s often the smallest details that make a difference: For instance, the SBV makes sure that those with impaired vision can use their sense of touch to identify individual stairs and large glass panels. “The architects aren’t always thrilled with the changes we have to make to their designs,” Siegfried notes with a smile.

Kudos – and Some Action Items – for SAP

Since it began its efforts in this area, SAP’s support for its severely disabled employees has continued to grow. The straightforward approach the SBV started out with has since led to the establishment of a company-wide strategy for diversity and inclusion. For Germany, company management has assigned a dedicated inclusion representative to work closely with the SBV. According to Siegfried, it’s this type of involvement that makes SAP very different from other companies. He goes on to point out that SAP has committed to fulfilling the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by assembling its own action plan.

The company’s strong sense of social responsibility is also evident in many aspects of an average workday: There are guide systems for the blind, adhesive strips that mark glass panels for the visually impaired, audio support, ramps, and barrier-free entry points. In the cafeterias, employees who are unable to carry their dishes on a tray can take advantage of a service that will bring their lunch to them. “That’s something really special that other companies don’t offer,” Siegfried states approvingly.

One area where he still sees room for improvement is accessibility. “Disability awareness still isn’t where it needs to be,” he says. However, Siegfried considers this more of a social issue rather than something specific to SAP. After all, people with disabilities that aren’t immediately recognizable still frequently try to downplay or conceal their limitations.

Until society changes how it deals with the subject, the necessity of accessibility won’t take root in our collective awareness.

– Siegfried Peisl, Trusted SBV Representative at SAP

Siegfried reveals that accessibility remains a challenge in communications and software, as well. The format of some e-mails isn’t compatible with the screen readers used by blind colleagues, for example. This is another area where people are gradually learning from one another, Siegfried says; at SAP’s Global All-Hands Meetings, for instance, live subtitles are already being offered. He also believes that the company needs to get better at making its software more accessible. Here, Siegfried is hoping to hear a stronger message from company management.

The topic of accessibility needs to be taken more seriously. We don’t want to have to keep saying, ‘Don’t forget us!’

– Siegfried Peisl