Inclusion at Audi: “I have a voice”

Deaf employees at the premium manufacturer? Audi is showing how it’s done.

12/02/2022 Reading Time: 4 min

Audian Vanessa with sign language interpreter Vanessa Stöhrl and her colleague Mathias standing in a hallway.
Audian Vanessa (center) with sign language interpreter Vanessa Stöhrl and her colleague Mathias. Vanessa and Mathias are deaf.

Integrating people from all backgrounds, including people with severe health impairments, is an important human resources goal at Audi. The company with the four rings wants to improve conditions so that all employees can apply their skills as effectively as possible.

For many years, Audi has been committed to inclusion at its sites, and dedicated to looking after the health of its employees. Whether they are blind or visually impaired, wheelchair users, deaf, or autistic. AUDI AG currently employs almost 3,400 people, including trainees, with a wide range of disabilities at its Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm sites. That means that six percent of the company's workforce consists of people with health conditions or impairments, which is above the legally required proportion. Eight to ten trainee positions are given to young people with severe health impairments annually. In the past ten years, around 80 impaired people have been trained in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm and then hired full-time.

Alternative positions for employees with health conditions or impairments

Additionally, the Audi family also includes people who have work limitations and who contribute to the company’s success every day. For example, if employees from production are no longer able to continue in their positions for health reasons, they are given the option of working in the Services division through our 50 Permanent Posts Program. Among other things, these employees engage in services such as delivering smartphones and tablets.

The goal of the 50 Permanent Posts Program is to give employees long-term prospects”

Tobias Munzel – Inclusion Officer at Audi Ingolstadt

“The goal of the 50 Permanent Posts Program is to give employees long-term prospects, so that they can be transferred into the department after two years on an open-ended basis,” says Tobias Munzel, Audi’s Inclusion Officer at the Ingolstadt site. Many impaired employees also work in logistics, the original parts warehouse, and engine processing.

Inclusion at Audi: accessibility, ergonomics, appreciation

There are many reasons for Audi’s commitment. For one thing, diversity is a factor in the company’s success and disability is part of that diversity. Additionally, there are legal requirements: since 2001, five percent of staff at companies with more than 20 employees have had to be from different backgrounds.


“We benefit from each individual, unique perspective,” explains Szonja Pajor, HR Business Partner and Inclusion Officer at Audi Neckarsulm. “But that means that there has to be an atmosphere in which everyone, regardless of their requirements, can apply their knowledge and talents in the way that is most helpful,” says Pajor.


To make that possible, one focal point for integrating and including everyone is ergonomics and accessibility. Ultimately, all Audi employees benefit from doors that open automatically. “But the most important thing is for people to look out for each other,” explains Rupert Klinger, Audi’s General Representative for the Severely Disabled from 2014 to 2022. He says that inclusion means more than just an ergonomic workspace or reading aids. The focus is not on what individual employees cannot do, but rather on their strengths and potential.

Consideration for people with autism and Asperger’s: more time, more breaks

Tim sitting at a coffee table with his laptop computer in the Caffeteria

Consideration for people with autism and Asperger’s: more time, more breaks

Tim is one example of how well that can function. After training as an IT specialist with a focus on application development at the Audi site in Ingolstadt, he now works in the quality control department. Now 23-years-old, he has known since he was in primary school that he has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Autistic people not only find it difficult to look others in the eye while talking to them or to recognize irony or sarcasm, but they also prefer quiet settings and like to have more space to themselves, particularly at work. The people around them need to be appropriately informed and respond with patience.


At Audi, Tim has been able to set up his desk in a corner of an open-plan office so that he can work largely undisturbed and not have people continually walking by him. He has also learned to say what he needs. “I sometimes get overwhelmed by simple situations, and I just need some time.” That is something that his colleagues know; his coworkers, he says, are very sympathetic.

Tim sitting at a coffee table with his laptop computer in the Caffeteria
Tim works at Audi in the Quality Control Systems department. The 23-year-old has known since his primary school days that he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

Inclusion at Audi also includes trainees

When a young person with a disability applies for a training position at Audi, they not only have a personal meeting with the trainers, but during an internship they also get an opportunity to figure out, together with other trainees, if the job, workplace, and environment are right for them.


“People like Tim are an asset to their classmates,” says Christoph Hermreck, Head of Audi Vocational Training and Dual Study Programs Ingolstadt. “They don’t just learn to communicate more precisely; they also establish a mindful way of interacting with one another and an appreciation for their own privileged situation.” That is a real advantage for team cohesion and an important step toward integrating disabled people.

Vanessa in a hallway, standing next to her colleague Mathias
Vanessa with her colleague Mathias, who is also deaf.

Being deaf or hard of hearing at Audi Neckarsulm: more tools

Vanessa also did her internship at Audi. She is a deaf employee who has been working on Audi A6 assembly in Neckarsulm since 2010. Her colleague Mathias is also deaf and now works in facility management after 22 years in production. “My department is extremely helpful and very receptive, including with new technical options,” the 46-year-old explains. Mathias and Vanessa would like to see even more technical support for themselves and their 53 deaf colleagues in Ingolstadt und Neckarsulm, including IT programs that convert speech into text.


That’s because everyday communication with colleagues can be difficult, they say. They often do not have much spare time to communicate using a text program on a smartphone or to write things down, Vanessa explains. “I can’t just communicate with people in passing, the way people who hear can,” the 31-year-old says.

I know I have a voice here at Audi. I won’t be overlooked

Vanessa – Employee assembly at Audi Neckarsulm

In order to make it easier for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate, sign language interpreters have been present, whenever possible, for the past three years at works assemblies, medical consultations, conversations with superiors, and weekly group discussions at Audi Neckarsulm. It does not always work passively, of course. It requires a lot of commitment and organization on the part of everyone involved from Production, Human Resources, and the Works Council.


“We want deaf people to be included as equals,” says Kai Loeprecht. He is a part of the group of people with health conditions or impairments in Neckarsulm. They make self-determination the top priority. Anyone who does not want to communicate through an interpreter does not have to. “We’re also looking into what other technical options there are to improve communication,” Szonja Pajor adds. Not every individual desire can be fulfilled. However, the goal is to have dignified interpersonal communication – across all channels.

Inclusion on the job at Audi: “I won’t be ignored”

“I’m grateful that Audi hires people with disabilities and enables them to have normal jobs,” says Vanessa. “But being deaf isn’t a disability to me. I know I have a voice here at Audi. I won’t be overlooked, and nothing is just decided for me.”


Tim would not want to change anything about himself or his situation either. “Asperger’s makes me the person I am, and I like myself as I am.” That goes for his job as well.


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