How did I end up at Google?

Konrad Rychlewski - Employee of Google’s AdSense, member of the Come CloSeR to Disability Task Force, graduate in Psychology at Humboldt University in Berlin, co-founder of the Lower Silesia Civic Forum.

The text lifted from the guidebook entitled The Accessible Company in an Accessible Environment published by the Managers of the Future MOFFIN Foundation in cooperation with the Come CloSeR to Disability Task Force.

Competences should be nourished

Qualifications are essential. Without them, the chances of being employed, achieving professional success or even being accepted by future employers are zero. Before we start making demands of others, let us give them a good example. Many companies, which are extensively committed in terms of openness to employing workers with disabilities are in any case the most desired employers in the country. They accept several dozens or even several hundreds of applications for one hired employee. Even if they decide to employ somebody else it does not automatically entitle us to think that this was due to our disability. Dozens of others have also been rejected, even though they were - or at least seemed to be – people without disabilities. This does not mean, however, that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against in the labour market. The problem is still common and negating it would be refuting the purpose of this guide, which is to create equal opportunities for personal accomplishment and development regardless of the limitations linked to their health. All the more we should appreciate companies that have already been effectively working towards creating inclusive teams or will take actions in this regard in the future. At the same time we need to work to improve ourselves to be candidates worthy of being employed at these available jobs. It would be difficult for me to mention any area of social life in which a disability would be an asset, it certainly is not the education system. A person with a disability, who wishes to obtain equivalent qualifications must demonstrate an above-average level of determination, creativity, problem-solving skills, in other words must possess the skills that are indispensable in a rapidly changing business environment. An accordingly informed employer will be able to recognize these advantages.

My road to Google

The recruiter for the new Google office in Wrocław, who approached me with a proposal to apply in July 2007, could not have been aware that they are dealing with a person with a disability. They contacted me through a German social networking site for students, which did not provide any information on a person’s disability. However, my disability was mentioned in my resume when I sent a reply. We can expect an international corporation active in the sector dealing with the most modern technologies, to be making recruitment decisions solely based on the candidates’ qualifications and the disability will only become significant at the stage of adapting the workplace to the future employee. So much for the theory, but I was still very impressed that this was also the case in reality. This experience of inclusion was so shocking to me that during one of my eight interviews I even asked whether the disability was, in fact, not a problem at all? Today the reply seems obvious: since I have been using the computer efficiently and meet the specific job requirements, it really is not. After the decision to hire me was made, but about a month before my first day at the office, I had a nearly one hour long conversation with, as it turned out later, my future supervisor, about optimally adapting my workplace. It has enabled the company to acquire the appropriate software before I started working, and allowing me to participate in the introductory training exercises in the same manner as any other person on the team. This is how my adventure with Google began and has been going on for 9 years from the moment this guide was printed. Throughout this time I have been trying to diversify my tasks as much as possible. These efforts included customer support, the creation of training and marketing material for AdSense publishers, writing tools to support our customer service, designing user interface, managing all types of projects, as well as cooperating with external entities including as foundations or private companies. The main challenge in terms of accessibility and inclusivity have always been the internal tools. Generally, I tried to use the oldest supported version of the software. On the one hand, these versions were less graphic friendly, and, to a large extent, did not take advantage of the possibilities of the latest computer hardware, as it was not in use at the time they were developed, and only worked on older versions of web browsers, which, in turn, were better supported by screen readers. It was not much better with external software. I still remember testing over 10 editors before finding one fully adapted to work with a screen reader, enabling UTF8 file editing and the trouble free exchange of files between Windows and Unix/Linux. In terms of software developed by Google, the biggest challenge was the transition to the system currently used for customer communications. In my case, it means over a year without being able to send them e-mails. I feel great respect for my superiors, who supported me at this time by replacing my duties with other tasks. Google office suite - documents, spreadsheets and presentations - became fully operational in mid-2013. It is now a fantastic tool that I eagerly use in my work-free time as well. When I started work at Google, it was not even possible to read materials created with this package, it always required its conversion into other formats. And you could only dream of editing. All the more I appreciate their extensive functionality today.

Psychology’s upper hand

Scholars have described dozens of cognitive biases and logical errors that we commit every day. Without these simplifications and heuristics we would not be able to function within the surrounding informational chaos. At the same time, they inevitably lead to erroneous conclusions and associations. In the case of a clear disability, the halo effect has a very significant impact. It consists in the fact that assigning one important positive or negative attribute influences the tendency to attribute other unobservable properties that are consistent with the emotional mark left behind by the first attributed characteristic. For most of our future co-workers we will be the first person with a disability that they have will have been able to know better. Base rate neglect will make the behaviours or attitudes performed by us easy to recognize as representative for everyone with a disability, or the group of persons with disabilities in general. The anchoring heuristic will induce the people we are dealing with to form their judgements about us on the basis of previous feelings, and the self-fulfilling prophecy will confirm them in their beliefs by inducing behaviours that will lead us to anticipated reactions. Therefore it is very important to understand our role as ambassadors for the entire community of persons with disabilities. Whether we personally perceive it as a way of encouraging us to overcome the stereotypes of persons with disabilities, or a burdensome duty, we will always and everywhere be the ambassadors, at the workplace as well.

The future employers will also need to have a better understanding of our situation. First of all, you should refrain from drawing hasty conclusions based on individual cases or events. Has every candidate, who does not have any disabilities, who passed through all of the recruitment stages met all the hopes vested in them? Are all workers employed 100% satisfied with the pay and work conditions? If so, why is employee turnover such a significant phenomenon? The same situation may apply to workers with disabilities. The success or failure of this or another person may, however, be a general indicator of the degree of the accessibility of the currently used software in the company, but cannot be a decisive factor in employing persons with disabilities in general. Seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses or turning to defeatism will not help the company. Each potential employee deserves to be treated individually. However, there are some circumstances that relate to virtually every person. Every day we can encounter people, who, regardless of their own mistakes and achievements, will look down on us, question our qualifications and skills, belittle our life achievements, or even deny us the right to self-determination and complete participation in social life, only because we are more disabled than they are. How many times have I met people surprised by the fact that I live on my own, not even mentioning my successful professional career. How do people learn to follow such stereotypes, where do they find the boldness to share such twisted conclusions with others? And yet, still worse are the people who draw equally absurd conclusions in silence, depriving us of the possibility to start a debate about it. Every single day our fight for basic dignity and real-life equality goes on - sometimes we feel like tankettes setting out for an everlasting war with the superior forces of doubt, mockery and arrogant opponents - as if the real limits resulting from disability were not enough and had to be strengthened by mental barriers. Why am I writing about it? Your company will become the first refuge for people with these experiences, an enclave of normality, understanding and fair treatment. Please expect enthusiasm, hard work and devotion for the good of the company and your clients from us. If we experience temporary adjustment problems, please allow us enough time to adapt. The subsequent success of such an employee will be all the more satisfying because it will also become your success.

Employment is just the first step

Succeeding in the completion of the recruitment process should be a source of joy and satisfaction for each employee. Let us not forget, however, that it is just the beginning and not the end of the road. We should pay particular attention to the working tools, which I have already mentioned before. In my case, any software, web browser or operational system update can deprive me of access to sensitive business data or cut off contact to my client. It is no different in any other company. Therefore, a great emphasis should be placed on ensuring the continuity of tool availability in the everyday working life of the employee. Certainly, we cannot expect that the software developed for several dozens or hundreds of users will have the same priority as a service created for billions. Therefore, it is important to prevent the implementation of new, potentially under-development releases, and make the implementation of the update dependent on it passing accessibility tests successfully. It will be easier for us to provide accessibility if internal applications will use - most often thoroughly tested - components of services created for external users. This will also make it possible to create a consistent corporate visual identity of the company. When implementing solutions that are entirely new, let us emphasize the benefits for the entire team as a result of taking into account additional requirements. For example, graphically lightly loaded software that uses HTML for semantic purposes will not only be easier to use with a screen reader, but will also work better on mobile devices. Providing an ergonomic workplace will not only benefit wheelchair users, but will reduce the incidence of typical office-related diseases. Providing close-captioning to audio-visual materials will not only help deaf people, but will make the records more easily spottable in the company knowledge-bases and easier to understand by people whose native language is used in these materials. But if specific software comes from an external provider, use the bargaining power of a loyal customer and demand a 21st century application. It is in the interest of both, the company and the employee, to continually develop their skills, improve their qualifications and increase their responsibilities. In this respect, the aspirations of employees with disabilities will be identical to all the others. Therefore, the accessibility of the workplace should not only be considered in terms of current tasks, but also future possibilities of increasing the person’s contribution to the company's success. This will be for the benefit of the person themselves and for the profit of the entire enterprise.


p. 27‒32: Why is it worth it and why now?