Claudia Gordon is the first female African American deaf lawyer in the United States. She is also the first deaf student to graduate in 2000, from the American University (AU) Washington College of Law, in Washington, DC. At AU, Gordon specialized in disability rights law and policy. Since earning her juris doctorate from AU, Gordon has been active in working to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are respected.
Claudia Gordon was born in rural Jamaica. Her mother immigrated to the South Bronx, in New York, so that she could earn a better living, and planned to reunite with her children as soon as she could. Claudia and her younger siblings were left in the care of her eldest sister, Mildred Taylor, a schoolteacher. While in her eldest sister’s care, Claudia suddenly developed severe pain in her middle ears and was taken to a small clinic. With no doctor on duty, the nurse couldn’t figure out what was wrong, only that Claudia was going deaf. And so as a result, at age eight Claudia Gordon became deaf.
After becoming deaf, Gordon experienced discrimination in Jamaica as deaf and disabled persons are stigmatized. This discrimination is what inspired her to become a lawyer. In Jamaica, Gordon could not get an education, so she moved to the United States where she attended first a public school, then the Lexington School and Center for the Deaf in New York. While at Lexington, Claudia Gordon learned sign language, participated in sports, and became a top student. By the time she reached her junior year in high school, Gordon knew that she wanted to become a lawyer.
Throughout Claudia Gordon’s life, she has been given many awards and honors. Prior to attending AU, Gordon graduated from Howard University in 1995 with a bachelor of arts in political science. At Howard, Gordon was a Patricia Robert Harris Public Affairs Fellow, a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society, and the Political Science Honor Society. More awards and honors came at American University, where Gordon was an Equal Justice Foundation Fellow, had the Myers Law Scholarship, and the J. Franklin Bourne Scholarship. In 2002, Gordon received the Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Gordon received the Skadden Fellowship (for law graduates working with disabled people) that helped her pay to work at the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center. This allowed Gordon to provide “Direct representation and advocacy for poor deaf persons with a particular emphasis on outreach to those who are members of minority groups.” Claudia Gordon became a consultant to the National Council on Disability, then joined the Department of Homeland Security. At Homeland Security, Gordon was the senior policy advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
At Homeland Security, Claudia Gordon’s focus was activities such as enforcing an executive order for Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Gordon’s efforts to ensure that the needs of disabled people were met in hurricane relief efforts earned her both the Gold Medal Award and the 2005 Hurricane Response Award from the Secretary of Homeland Security
Claudia Gordon has been active in both the black deaf community and the broader disability community. She was the vice president of the National Black Deaf Advocates. In 2004, she was named secretary of the Board for the Lexington Board of Directors. Gordon is also associated with the National Coalition for Disability Rights , where she is part of their national governance