Audi’s workforce obviously includes people with disabilities. The Company is able to offer them equal career prospects thanks to its comprehensive integration management approach and special qualifications measures. Among those benefiting from the arrangements is 56-year-old Waldemar Bergstreiser.
“I’m so happy and grateful that I can live life to the full – as an active contributor, not just a spectator. That I can be active once again and make a difference,” says Waldemar Bergstreiser. At first glance he does not seem to be any different from his colleagues working on quality control in Complaints Processing. A man of medium build, with hints of gray peppering his brown hair. And yet there is a difference: Bergstreiser radiates an unusual sense of purpose and zest for life.
His eyes shine and his face lights up as he tells his story: “I find it fulfilling that I’m able to earn a living instead of simply receiving handouts from society that would put me on its fringes. It took me a long time to recover from my illness, but being able to contribute useful work and knowing that my efforts were appreciated was the best medicine I could possibly have had.” Bergstreiser is severely disabled, even if he doesn’t look it. What happened?
November 1992: Bergstreiser, three months after coming to Germany from Kazakhstan, was working on the A4 assembly line at Audi, with the task of assembling trunk linings. One morning he felt pain in the upper abdominal region and went to see the doctor. The late shift that day proved to be the last time he was able to work for seven years. The diagnosis was leukemia, and he was only expected to live for another four years unless a suitable bone marrow donor could be found. At that time Bergstreiser, father of two children, was 35 years old. Course upon course of chemotherapy followed.
Four years down the line, when a bone marrow donor was finally found, Bergstreiser was too weak for the operation. The doctors did not rate his chances of survival. At this point in his story his lips tremble and there are tears in his eyes as he says: “That was the moment when I realized how important it is not to give up. Even if you can only see a blank wall in front of you, you have to climb it in order to look over the top and find out what new opportunities and perspectives there are on the other side.”
Bergstreiser agreed to take part in trialing a new therapy – and it worked. After three months in intensive care, he was fit enough for the transplant to be carried out. “I’ll never forget that day,” he adds. All of seven months elapsed before he was able to leave the intensive-care unit, breathe fresh air and let the light back into his life. He relearned how to walk and, piece by piece, rediscovered life. Two more years were to pass before he was considered strong enough to return to work.
On August 14, 2013, Bergstreiser will turn 56. But he is celebrating a second birthday earlier – on June 19 – as he has been doing for the past 16 years. Seven years had passed since his last shift on the production line. His physical condition clearly made it impracticable for him to work against the clock. Audi’s Human Resources department, Works Council, company doctor, disabled employees representative and social care coordinator consulted on finding a suitable alternative for Bergstreiser that would reflect his skills and qualifications, while taking account of his physical limitations.
“My reemployment at Audi was my salvation.” Bergstreiser laughs heartily, his face beaming. He started his new job in November 1999. It involved packing hardware. “Work made me fit again! At long last I felt like a normal person. And I thought: I have plenty more to get out of life.”
Since 2011 Bergstreiser has been in charge of processing complaints at the packing operations. At the age of 46 he embarked on a master craftsman qualification, spending his Friday evenings and Saturdays in the classroom. “I was definitely the oldest student there!” he recalls with a smile on his face. He is proud of his master craftsman certificate, which he obtained at the age of 48. “I was really delighted to achieve it. I had almost forgotten what learning means. I’m sure I had to work harder at it than the young people, but my family always supported me.” Bergstreiser radiates satisfaction. “Audi has rewarded me with a higher-ranking position in quality control. But I’m still so grateful to have a chance to work again. It has given me back my sense of dignity.”
Bergstreiser’s eyes mist over for a moment as he thinks back to the long illness he had to endure. “You’re never quite the same person again. You can’t fight it: You’re entirely dependent on other people helping you. I therefore enjoy every day that gives me a chance to do something useful. And for me, Audi is the best employer anyone could wish for.”