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Problem-Solving Skills and Assistive Technology Equal Long-term Career Success for Pharmacia Systems Engineer RRS feed

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  • Twenty-five years ago Pharmacia Corporation systems engineer Dennis Raher was fresh out of college with two solid college degrees in hand. He was set to begin a career in the up-and-coming new world of computers—but his search proved frustrating. What he needed was a chance to prove that his visual impairment would not hold him back. The Upjohn Company—predecessor to today's Pharmacia Corporation—gave him that chance.

    The frustration of the job search is all too familiar to many people. But most people won't face five years of unsuccessful attempts. And most people couldn't hold a positive attitude for that long either. But that's just what Dennis Raher, Sr. Systems Engineer Database Administrator, Pharmacia Corporation, had to do to get his start.

    Raher is legally blind, but he doesn't waste time thinking about whether that prevented him from getting a job 25 years ago. Back then, as now, he just put his remarkable problem-solving skills to work. In the mid-1970s Raher was a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and a master's degree in Marketing Research—so he was confident of his qualifications. He just needed a chance to show that his visual impairment would not hold him back, or prove to be an insurmountable problem for an employer.

    He had successfully completed his studies with the help of state-of-the-art assistive technology of the day—a closed circuit TV (CCTV) device that projected an enlarged image of written material onto a monitor in a size he could read. With training and education and with his assistive technology he knew he could do the job.

    His job search eventually led him to a Michigan State Technical Institute training program for people with disabilities. He was overqualified for the training, but there was one particular aspect of the program that Raher thought might prove advantageous. The training was overseen by a Business Advisory Committee that included a number of high-level people at prominent local companies. Raher reasoned that the Advisory Committee contained just the people he needed to get to know. He was right.

    Business Contacts Bring Opportunity

    The head of the IT organization at Pharmacia's predecessor, The Upjohn Company, was also the head of the program's Advisory Council. Raher made sure the Upjohn IT director became familiar with his qualifications. After six months in the program Raher worked out a 6-month trial employment opportunity with Upjohn. "At the end of the six months I signed a permanent contract with them as a computer programmer," he says.

    That was 1980—and Raher has been moving up through the ranks of the IT organization ever since. Raher's job now continues to draw on his problem-solving skills as he assists several internal customer areas to design and implement database systems.

    Assistive Technology is Essential Tool

    All along the way Raher has used assistive technology to help him do his job. As his eyesight changed over time, he moved from the CCTV technology to screen reading technology and has used Window-Eyes from GW Micro for the past nine years. With Window-Eyes he gets information through sound rather than sight. A software voice synthesizer verbalizes the information translated to speech by Window-Eyes.

    Raher says his assistive technology is essential to his work. "What would I do without it? It's real simple—without it, I wouldn't have this job. And, it's the ongoing development of assistive technology along with the other technology I use to do my job that is essential to my success."

    Pharmacia Support "Excellent"

    Raher says Pharmacia has been very supportive in providing him the assistive technology he needs to do his job. "From day one, Pharmacia's support has been excellent. From its beginnings, the company has been people-oriented and community-oriented. That's why there was a representative on that advisory committee back in 1980."

    And the company is smart about how it supports its employees, too, Raher says. "You've got to be able to do the work—and to do it productively—to make it pay for everyone. My company's attitude is, 'you're a resource—we need you to do your work. We buy a special plotter for this guy over here—we'll buy this tool for you.' It was really kind of that attitude of 'this is just another aspect of your job and a tool that you need for your job.'"

    Company Seeks Strength Through Diverse Workforce

    Pharmacia is a company that takes its diversity seriously. As a "founding member" of the National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) 25 years ago, in 2002 Pharmacia was recognized for its leadership role and commitment to integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. "Our greatest asset is our people," the company states. Randy Manuel, Director of Diversity and EEO, explains that sustaining a diversity vision and such a value requires the CEO, Board of Directors, and Management Committees to embrace improving diversity as part of the corporate culture and its business strategies. A key goal is to "create an inclusive, engaging and rewarding work environment that enables individuals to develop and contribute to their fullest potential."

    Monday, February 26, 2007 6:07 AM

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