My great opportunity – with a handicap

Hello, my name is Katja Fichter. I’m 25 years old and I have been working at Daimler Gastronomie GmbH in Gaggenau since October 2017.

I would like to explain how I got this Job:

First of all, I was born with a small part of my brain missing. I’m epileptic and I had to spend a lot of time in hospitals when I was younger. Because of this, I was only able to attend a special secondary school and graduate with a lower secondary (level-two) qualification. Unfortunately, I also never had the opportunity to do any vocational training after I finished school.

First experiences

However, I was able to complete an internship in the kitchen at a retirement and nursing home in Gaggenau. That was my first experience working in a kitchen, which was really a lot of fun.

After the internship, I got a job in the Murgtal residential and work center for people with disabilities. I can tell you that nothing was easy there at the beginning! For one thing, the facility houses people with all different kinds of disabilities, and some people even have several severe disabilities. So, I first had to get used to being in a place with so many handicapped people.

I also worked in a department where I had to check and assemble automotive parts, which wasn’t exactly something I was particularly skilled in. Still, I was able to do my work well — so well in fact that they gave me a job in the kitchen, where I was able to work more and more independently. I really enjoyed that.

But at some point I realized that I could probably do more. The Lebenshilfe organization for people with disabilities helped me find a cooperation partner were I could conduct an internship and make use of my previous experience. In the spring of 2017, a job coach at Lebenshilfe got in touch with the manager at Daimler Gastronomie GmbH, who immediately said he was willing to give me a chance. And that’s how it came to be that I began an internship at Daimler Gastronomie GmbH in mid-October 2017.

Starting out in the cafeteria

I had to get used to some new things – like getting up at 5:30 every morning so I could start work at 7:00 in the kitchen. That’s not a problem anymore, though.

My work was also different in that the meals in the residential and work center were delivered ready-made and all we had to do was hand them out, but all meals at Daimler Gastronomie GmbH are freshly prepared every day.

When I started my internship, I was responsible for plating up desserts and preparing salad bowls, and as time went on I was given more and more things to do. To make things easier at the beginning, my job coach came to work with me every day during the first week, but only two or three times a week after that. These days, he only comes if I really need him for some reason. If I have a problem, I can always talk to my contact partner at Daimler Gastronomie, or any other member of my team for that matter.

A real member of the team

I really liked my job a lot from the very beginning, especially because my entire team was very welcoming and supportive. I therefore felt good at work immediately. At first, I only worked from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. so that I wouldn’t get completely worn out. Still, in the beginning I was always pretty exhausted by the time I got home.

After two weeks, I started serving meals at the counter, which was a little unusual with hundreds of people walking by me all the time. It was pretty hard, especially because many customers also asked me where they could find certain things. These days, I really enjoy explaining to them where they can find things — it’s not as taxing as it used to be. It’s also nice that customers occasionally stop to have a little conversation with me.

Another really fantastic thing is that from the beginning no one ever pretended that I didn’t have a handicap; everyone was very open about it. At the same time, I never had the feeling that I wasn’t taken seriously. For example, everyone always listens when I make a suggestion, and some of my suggestions are tried out and put into practice. That makes me very happy, and it also makes me feel like I’m really part of the team.

We have a great ritual at work: Every day we eat breakfast together at around 8:30, and those breakfasts can be pretty funny sometimes – like work in the kitchen in general. For example, there’s always someone singing and the steam cookers are always “making music” (the tone that tells you when the cooking time is up can be customized). Of course, there’s always someone joking around as well.

After I started work, the team immediately invited me to attend the Christmas Party, and also the Winter Party in January, when the entire team took a trip with the streetcar to the Turmbräu beer hall in Freudenstadt, where we all had a great time together. The next big team event will be the Summer Festival.

I’ve learned a lot since I started my internship and I’ve noticed that I’ve become much more independent and am willing to take on more challenges – and not just at work. I can’t imagine working anywhere else, and my advice to all of you is to remember that if you believe you can do something, you’ll eventually get an opportunity to prove it.

I, for one, am very grateful that I got my opportunity – despite my handicap.

Katja Fichter works at Daimler Gastronomie GmbH at the Gaggenau plant. Her story shows that inclusion works and can enrich all of our lives.