Disability Awareness Starts With All of Us - and Benefits All of Us
T‑Mobile’s new Senior Accessibility Partner has worked with a number of government institutions and even the White House itself to elevate the standards of access and inclusion. She speaks with us about both her impressive resume and the memories as a little girl that motivated her to work in social justice.
Claudia Gordon is a lot of things. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it when you see it on paper.
The first Black, deaf woman attorney in the United States. Former staff attorney of nonprofit National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center. Member of National Black Deaf Advocates. A Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties alumna. A disaster recovery representative on the ground in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. An 8-year member of the Obama administration’s Department of Labor and former disability liaison at White House. A Ted Talk presenter.
But when you ask her about this, Claudia glosses over titles and organizations with such ease, to efficiently get to what the point behind all that was for her. Each title, each promotion, each department change had a very specific purpose behind it. She wanted to provide legal representation and help break down communication barriers for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind. She wanted to advocate directly with Congress and federal agencies to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act. She wanted to ensure that while we were applying new security measures to protect our nation, we weren’t diminishing the rights and protections of those with disabilities. She wanted to strengthen Section 503 of the Rehab Act, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and requires employers take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote and retain such individuals.
Don’t get lost in the titles or the organization names. What Claudia Gordon wants you to know is simple: “My goal was to contribute toward inclusivity and accessibility and work for a more just and equitable world.”
Now leading the charge at T-Mobile as senior partner within the company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team, she is excited to once again go beyond titles and find the purpose in her work: To pursue the integration of disability and inclusion access within the company’s overarching DE&I prioritization efforts and initiatives.
As the company celebrates being named a 2021 Leading Disability Employer by the National Organization on Disability and receiving a 100% score on Disability:IN’s Disability Equality Index for five years in a row, Claudia makes it clear that awards never mark the end of the work that still needs to happen.
“We continue to receive recognition for our efforts in disability employment, accessibility and inclusion,” she says, “but I don’t think we can just hold ourselves out as worthy recipients. Accessibility and inclusion for those with disabilities is a journey where we will never arrive at an end point, or where we can just pat ourselves on the back and rest on our laurels. We have to think about accessibility because we think about people … at the end of the day, it’s about our employees with disabilities, our customers with disabilities, our job applicants with disabilities. We want them to want to work with us because it’s about them. They want the same thing as everyone else, which is a world they can navigate without barriers.”
We sat down with Claudia, with the help of American Sign Language interpreters Tiffany Hill and Elise Mongeon, to discuss the motivation behind her work, the plans she has at T-Mobile and what it means to be one team together.
Where does the passion and motivation to become the first Black, deaf woman attorney in the U.S. come from, and how do you see that same motivation in the work you do today?
I was born and raised on the beautiful island of Jamaica. When I was 8 years old, I lost my ability to hear, and since then I’ve experienced multiple forms of marginalization, oppression and plain old exclusion. Those experiences motivated me to pursue a career in social justice from a very early age.
I moved to the United States when I was 11, where I was fortunate to receive an excellent education. In the following years I attended college and obtained a law degree from American University in Washington, DC. My goal was to contribute toward inclusivity and accessibility and work for a more just and equitable world.
I joined Sprint in 2017 and oversaw government compliance for the accessibility business unit, focusing on reducing barriers in communication-product services. In June, I accepted my new role as senior partner within the T-Mobile Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team, and I’m very excited to get going.
T-Mobile is different. We prioritize disability among those marginalized groups, and that’s one reason why we’ve been singled out for awards from disability advocacy groups year after year after year.
My job is to work with various stakeholders across the company, such as real estate, HR, recruitment, even IT, regarding digital space and product development. We’ll listen to these stakeholders to learn about their work and how we can incorporate disability-related considerations into what we do every day — and to determine where there’s room for improvement. Based on those gaps, we’ll develop collaborative strategies that will drive us to become a more equitable workplace for individuals with disabilities and create a more inclusive culture where everyone can thrive and bring their whole self to work.
You have worked for a number of reputable institutions and companies that put a lot of rigor behind the work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. How would you describe the energy in the field at T-Mobile?
T-Mobile has already demonstrated that it’s a good place for people with disabilities to work in several ways. And the key is not simply hiring someone with disabilities for the sake of checking a box or to garner a particular percentage so the statistics look good. Inclusion transcends the presence of an individual to include people with disabilities so they genuinely feel like they belong in the workplace, like their experiences and voices are heard. That’s essential for real, meaningful inclusion, and I believe T-Mobile gets it. It’s important for a company to be vulnerable enough to admit there’s room for improvement.
Even before I came aboard, I’d seen impressive efforts in several areas. For example, the Accessibility Resource Center, or ARC, is a group working hard to remove digital barriers to access, and I’ve been impressed with the team’s technical expertise and their efforts to educate across the company and invest in training. It’s an effort that should be recognized all across the corporate world.
And the Accessibility Community at T-Mobile, or ACT, is an employee resource group that I believe is at 11,000 members and counting. That’s huge. They provide great resources for employees with disabilities.
Another example is this role I’ve been brought into. It shows that the voices and the hands of those with disabilities at T-Mobile matter. We are on a journey, and I feel like we have a seat at the table and our voices and our hands are being heard.
How would you describe the practical application of the work you’re doing, in a way that all employees can understand and see the value and benefit for the company as a whole?
My DE&I team partners with HR, which involves representation from many different stakeholders across the company. The goal is to identify pain points and barriers to access and work together to figure out solutions and mediation. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning a management system or platform that employees have to use. That shows a level of commitment to work towards actual goals, not just talking about them.
I encourage each of us, including myself as a person with a disability, to pause and think about how our behavior impacts others. With this mindset, we can prioritize access and inclusion in even the little things we do. Because it really matters. It’s not something we can just delegate to one person or one team. It’s us, one team together, to achieve a more inclusive and equitable workplace, that will make T-Mobile number one for this work.
T-Mobile is celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month throughout October. To learn more about the Un-carrier’s efforts to further Diversity, Equity and Inclusion every day, visit the T-Mobile website.