Talking hands – The story of Andreas and Sven

You’re sitting at your desk. Try and picture it to yourself. Your colleague next to you is tapping away at her keyboard  – click, click. Behind you, a telephone is clamouring. You’ve always found this ringtone very irritating. A colleague rushes past you, a stack of paper falls to the floor. Can you hear it? Imagine. Listen carefully. And now imagine this: you hear none of it at all. The world around you is silent – no clicking keyboards, no shrill telephones. For Sven Zimmerer und Andreas Peppe, this is normal. Because they’re deaf – a definite challenge in the day-to-day workplace environment.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-11-15 um 09.29.11Sven is blond and quite tall, with a shy smile. In September 2011, he started training as a technical product designer at Krones – he will soon have qualified. Since the age of three, he’s had a cochlea implant, a hearing aid. Behind his ear, you can see the external part of the implant, round and light-brown. This visible part uses a magnet to excite an implanted coil, which in turn employs electrodes to stimulate the auditory nerve. This enables Sven to hear and speak a bit, and to converse with a “normal-hearing” person. But he also “speaks“ a second language: sign language. It took him many years to master it properly, because learning sign language is very challenging indeed – and often even more demanding than a “normal“ foreign language.

Sitting next to Sven is Andreas, who is wearing a black shirt, black glasses as well, and sports a short brown beard. He’s been working at Krones for 20 years now. He qualified as a technical draughtsperson in Schwandorf, and then moved to Neutraubling – today, he’s responsible for pneumatics at Krones. In addition to his day job, he also teaches sign language, five times a week at night school, the East Bavarian Technical College and Regensburg University. With swift, flowing gestures, in total silence, he tells Sven his story. And Sven translates: because since Sven has been working for Krones, a lot of things have become easier for Andreas. He used to be able to converse with his colleagues only in writing – using pen and paper, emails and chats. Nowadays, Sven can also translate for him. Communication has got significantly faster. Huge relief! As his constant companion, Sven goes with him to all important appointments, to group meetings, and also when he’s summoned to the boss – which of course requires a lot of mutual trust.

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The latest helpful innovation is the webcams that now adorn the computers of Sven and Andreas. The test phase has already been completed successfully. Thanks to the webcams, the two of them can now converse with other hearing-impaired colleagues at Krones. There are seven of them in Neutraubling, plus two each in Freising and Flensburg. A helpful tool, both of them concur. “I’m really relieved, because communication between the hearing-impaired and me is much smoother over a webcam”, explains Andreas. And Sven’s enthusiastic too: “I think it’s brilliant, it means I can communicate much faster, more smoothly and more meaningfully with hearing-impaired colleagues from other facilities as well.“ The webcam idea originates with Krones AG’s Disabilities Officer for the facility in Neutraubling, Franz Beiderbeck, who explains: “We try to the best of our ability to make things easier at work for our hearing-impaired colleagues.“ For advanced training courses and works meetings, for example, an interpreter is co-opted. What’s more, once a year there’s a meet-up for the hearing-impaired, where Andreas and Sven can talk to the others in an informal atmosphere about their everyday work. And so for the two of them the workplace routine isn’t quite as silent as it might at first glance appear.