Meet The Google Negotiator Who Stands Up For Employees With Disabilities

  • Patrick Schilling defends the rights of employees with disabilities in the workplace.
  • Four years into his career at Google, Schilling shared his experiences working in big tech.
  • Insider asked him how he overcame the challenges of his youth to get to where he is today.

Growing up in the southern German town of Tuttlingen, Patrick Schilling could not use his local library.

Born with shortened arms and legs, Schilling’s disability left him dependent on an electric wheelchair from an early age.

But the library closest to Schilling’s family home was only accessible by stairs, which meant he had to rely on the internet in search of new reading material.


Speaking to Insider from his home in Zurich, where he now works as a strategic negotiator in Google’s cloud computing division, Schilling said the experience was emblematic of the unique dynamics that drove his early passion for cloud computing. technology and innovation.

“There are two angles. The first is that if you use an electric wheelchair, the first time it breaks down you develop an intrinsic motivation to make sure the technology being built for millions of people actually works,” he said. he declares.

“On the other hand, I appreciate the benefits of technological advancements quite early on. My local library was only accessible by stairs. When the internet arrived, I could suddenly read almost anything I wanted in the digital realm. »

According to the World Health Organization, nearly a billion people around the world need assistive devices to go about their daily lives, but only a fraction of them have access to such technology.

Growing up in a working-class family with little “intellectual exposure to this region,” Schilling said he might struggle to navigate a mean world.

“I faced the good, the bad and the ugly of growing up with a physical disability quite early on,” he said. “I was born to two wonderful parents, who were completely unprepared for this to happen. But from day one, they took this approach where they said, “You can either make your life matter or you can’t. »

“I try to make every day count. »

Schilling says living with a disability has taught her invaluable life skills.

Four years into his career at Google, Schilling attributes much of his success to an internal “narrative shift” he began working on as a teenager.

In his late teens, Schilling found himself “in a not-so-great place.” “I was like, ‘Why is it me? Why do I have to live this? »

But the elimination of a broken down wheelchair prompted a rethink. “This chair had let me down several times. It had kept me from taking the bus, or jumping in a cab and meeting a friend for dinner,” he said.

“But everything I had done over the years – from living and studying abroad to maintaining great friendships – was only possible because of that. It took my thinking away from a narrative focused on the negatives. »

Patrick SchillingGoogle

Schilling gave a commencement speech at the NC State Pool College of Management in 2018

NC/YouTube Status

Schilling’s realization – that lifelong addiction to a wheelchair had helped him build an impressive list of life skills – helped him realize his potential.

“If you’re in a wheelchair and want to take a train, that’s a whole project in itself. Is the train accessible? Is the station accessible? It’s project management,” he said. “If you have to ask people on the street for help, you will need communication skills.

“These are strengths, and these are strengths that businesses and society as a whole can benefit from. »

Schillings is optimistic for the next generation of employees with disabilities.

While Schilling’s experience at Google has been overwhelmingly positive, he’s far from complacent about the continued need for workplace activism, admitting that “not a week goes by that there isn’t be invited to speak on one panel or another, or to meet another young person facing similar challenges.

Based on regular meetings with the “seven or eight” mentees he meets regularly, Schilling believes the future of disability rights advocacy in the workplace is in good hands.

“I’m 27 now, right? I was the first person with a disability to attend my high school. But people who are 10 years younger than me and, well, they don’t take it. »

He retells the story of a young man he knows. This person was interviewing for a job and felt that the recruiter was not comfortable with the fact that he had no weapons.

“So he looked at the recruiter, and he said, ‘All right, listen. I have no arms, and guess what? I don’t need them to excel in this job. So why not just take a second and get over this and then focus on how I can improve your business. Schillings can’t help laughing: “When he said that to me, I was like, ‘Wow, well done.’

“It’s great to see how these kids are growing up and they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. »

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