Choosing a career is a deeply personal and intimate decision. Yet this path is also shaped by many external factors. If you are a person in a wheelchair of if you are deaf, accessing the primary labor market might not be an easy feat. But it’s definitely possible. David Völzmann and Felizitas Böcher show us how they did it.
Dream job: carpenter. David Völzmann knew from an early age that this is what he wanted to be. "Because of my condition, I had to ask myself how I can realistically accomplish my goal. Can I really do this?” His goal was a carpentry apprenticeship – regardless of what it might take. He is currently a third-year apprentice and will finish his education in August 2019. After that, he plans to become a master carpenter. "Later on, I would like to become an instructor, so that I can pass my knowledge on to others who have physical disabilities and continue to work in this field."
Working environment, colleagues, employer: If all conditions fit optimally, nothing stands in the way of successful training – as in the case of the prospective carpenter David Völzmann.
The objective: Breaking down barriers as a master carpenter and instructor
The actual carpentry workshop doesn’t have any physical barriers: there are no high thresholds or steps and the workbenches are also height adjustable. His daily work largely depends on his disposition that day. His colleagues and employer respect this and demonstrate flexibility. "When I let them know in the morning that this is not a good day for me and that I prefer to stay in the workshop, it often forces my boss to rearrange his schedule for that day," says Völzmann. For example, if he was scheduled to accompany his boss to a customer appointment but is physically unable to do so that day. "But my boss is always very accommodating and makes alternative arrangements. I give him a lot of credit for doing that and appreciate it."
Generally, David Völzmann does not have to do any heavy work activities - unless he insists. Then his colleagues make sure that they can all accomplish the task together.
Völzmann says that he is occasionally able to incorporate his disability-related experiences during on-site appointments. One example relates to changing doorsteps in homes or making things generally more accessible. Having said that, overall he has little influence on these kinds of processes and decisions. Though he points out that he is only an apprentice at this point and thus shouldn’t expect to "swim with the big fish". But Völzmann already thinks ahead and adds, "If I am in a higher level position in the future, I will be able to actively prompt changes. Your status is very different as an instructor."
Evangelical Church hires deaf pastor
Her personal experiences have already propelled Felizitas Böcher into a variety of different situations in her professional life. Böcher, the first deaf pastor of the Evangelical-Lutheran church in Bavaria since September 2018 says: "This refers to knowing your own limitations and abilities, or simply the knowledge that a person with a disability is actually 'perfectly normal'." Many of these aspects flow into her work. "Everything I know is a part of me and affects how I work. My disability is just one aspect of many." For her, learning sign language has been an immensely valuable experience. "It gives me ways to express myself that I wasn’t privy to before. The imagery of this language is great for sermons, devotions, and working with people of all ages."
Asked about her career choice, she says that life and her experiences have led her to her profession: "For me, it’s a vocation." She has explored theology and spiritual guidance since childhood. It came naturally to her to talk about God and whatever troubles people. Later on, she came to discover the inherent career that followed suit.
Felizitas Böcher is a pastor with heart and soul. For her it is not only a profession, it is a vocation.
Böcher was born hard of hearing and became completely deaf during her university studies. Yet she never wavered in her decision, only the path needed some adjustments time and again. "After all, studying with hearing loss is definitely different from studies when you can hear – especially if everything is still new, as it was for me back then." But thanks to a supportive environment, she was able to manage and cope with any changes. It wasn’t just her husband who was instrumental during these challenging times, but also many other deaf people she met in the sign language community and who taught her sign language. "My mentor, Pastor Klenk, had complete faith in me during my studies. And my friends even formed study groups with written communication and joined me," Böcher remembers. She worked with different interpreters during her studies: first with a speech-to-text reporter, and later on with a sign language interpreter.
She also learned to hear better thanks to her cochlear implants. They are also beneficial in her daily work. Yet those are not the only tools Böcher has at her disposal: "I can use regular phones for example – but they must have a large receiver. I can hold the sound processor near the speaker and the microphone still reaches my mouth," says the young pastor. An FM wireless microphone helps her in social situations when other people are involved. "I also use a light-signal system that notifies me when the doorbell rings and if I don’t feel like listening. When I am writing a sermon for example." Another thing that’s always helpful is a certain amount of creativity.
Dream job in the primary labor market?
Böcher feels fully accepted and supported by her employer. Her regional Bavarian church was very open and welcoming. "Things were still very different in Germany just a few short years ago," says Böcher. "There is a theologian in Berlin, for example, who was not accepted in the same way I was, even though she has the same education as me." She opines that it is priceless and crucial that an employer has an open mind and says, "of course we can see ourselves doing this." That was the case with Böcher’s employer.
Of course, Felizitas Böcher and David Völzmann are just two examples. Yet they prove that participation in the primary labor market can work.
Although Völzmann's current boss was once his father’s apprentice, the applications the young man from Northern Germany sent out to other prospective employers still showed a lot of promise. "It was encouraging for me to see that two other carpenters were also willing to take me on as an apprentice – despite my physical disability." That’s why Völzmann recommends to definitely try but to also have a little patience. After all, it always has to be a good fit for both parties. "It’s not just the employer that must be accommodating, you also have to be willing to cooperate," the budding carpenter explains. "You can’t expect everyone to just lay the world at your feet. As I always like say, this is a 'normal' labor market after all." Having said that, it’s also not an option to always back down and take the backseat. You need to find the right balance and the middle ground.
Felicitas Böcher offers similar advice to young people with disabilities who want to get into the primary labor market: "Don’t be discouraged! Things may work out if you only try. But if you don’t try, you will definitely not succeed!" Above all else, the pastor recommends having patience – with yourself, if things don’t work out right away, and with others. "It’s impossible for people who don’t share your disability to know about your struggles and needs. You have to explain things to them, and sometimes more than once. You are your own expert – only you know what you are about," says Böcher. "And in case some things still don’t work out: Don’t give up! You are valuable – not because you are successful, but simply because you exist!"
Nadine Lormis (translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com
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