UK ECON DATA

A New Language in the Fulfilment Centre

Integrating sign language into the workplace

Lunch break at Amazon in Pforzheim. Melanie Wieland is speaking excitedly with her colleagues in the cafeteria. That much you can see, but you cannot hear what she is saying. Melanie is hearing impaired and communicates in sign language. Amazon has been employing hearing impaired staff in its fulfilment centres for several years now. In Werne, Germany, specially trained instructors handle their training – in sign language. High-traffic areas with lots of trucks or forklifts are not well suited for hearing impaired employees because of safety considerations that require people to be able to hear warning sounds from approaching vehicles. They are, however, able to work without issue at the packaging stations.

Melanie has been hearing impaired since birth. After a three year training programme as a saleswoman in the health care sector, she was unable to find a job in her trained profession – and thus began a journey. She tried many different jobs, most recently in a laundry. But she had to spend "a lot of time and patience" looking for a "good job that pays well". "In my previous jobs I was never really part of the team; there weren't any integration measures", says the 42 year old of the setbacks she encountered in her first attempts to gain a foothold in the working world. Last year, she learned of a vacancy at Amazon from an acquaintance. She submitted her application, made a good impression in the interview and then had her first day in the fulfilment centre in Pforzheim in February 2016. She received a warm welcome in her team from the very start and familiarised herself with all the work procedures within the first six months. Melanie is very happy about her new job. "The long wait was worth it", she says.

The whole team welcomed me from the very start. At first it wasn't easy to communicate with my hearing colleagues, but now we can understand each other just fine - Melanie Wieland, Amazon employee, Germany

Getting started made easy

Four other hearing impaired colleagues have started working at Amazon in Pforzheim along with Melanie. The fulfilment centre was well prepared. It first considered which work areas are most suitable for the new workers. In consultation with the Integration Office in Pforzheim, the packaging stations were agreed as the best location following a site visit. Melanie as well as her hearing colleagues first had a week of training on their schedule. Their experienced colleague, Marlene Koop, and a sign language interpreter were there to assist. She now works entirely independently. She carries a pager that vibrates to warn her in case of a fire alarm or other emergency.

Communication is everything

Employees from more than 150 countries work together in the Amazon fulfilment centres. Communication in many different languages is thus an everyday occurrence. Now another language has been introduced: sign language.

It can be lip-read and, if in doubt, communicated in writing. "I've already taught some colleagues simple terms in sign language; it works out quite well", says the packer, smiling. Her direct supervisors are trained in sign language. "Working with hearing impaired employees strengthens the team spirit and makes us more attentive to one another. This benefits the hearing colleagues too", says site manager Alexander Bruggner.

Not only the hearing impaired have an opportunity to work at Amazon. The Koblenz-Mayen Employment Agency awarded Amazon's Koblenz site the "2014 Future Certificate" in recognition of its integration of severely disabled, elderly, less skilled or long-term unemployed workers.

HIGHLIGHTS

Melanie Wieland has been hearing impaired since birth. She was for a long time unable to find a fulfilling job despite completing a training programme.

She has been working as a packer at Amazon in Pforzheim since February 2016. She communicates with supervisors and colleagues in sign language or by lip reading.

Amazon Pforzheim works closely with the Integration Office to create optimum conditions for Melanie and her hearing impaired colleagues.

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