When Susan Jolly was 19, she was in a car accident that resulted in an incomplete Cervical 4/5 spinal cord injury (SCI) that left her quadriplegic. There is no way she can convey what transitioning to her new life was like. So, she doesn’t try. Susan simply says she is grateful for influences of others that made her resilient.
“I was very goal driven even as a young child thanks to people in my life,” says the Senior Manager in the Product and Technology Department at T-Mobile. “I started setting goals for myself even at 7 years old, like that I was going to be a professional woman working alongside men in corporate America. That dream has come true.”
Susan thinks big picture in most anything you discuss in her life, and her decisions all read like steppingstones to large scale pursuits. She’s a woman who has overcome incredible obstacles to achieve professional goals such as graduate with her MBA and have a successful career in technology as well as personal ones to become a mother, of a now 27-year-old son, even after sustaining her injury. A staunch believer in the value of financial independence for people with disabilities, it’s no surprise that her very first job after her life was turned upside down was as an advocate at the Independent Living Center in Los Angeles.
The most important skill I see in people with disabilities is we are innovative in order to survive in our everyday lives. There’s an innovative mindset I need in my personal life that translates well in my work life.Susan Jolly, T-Mobile Senior Manager
“It was my first job after my accident” she says, “and where I learned to live my life with my disability. Getting people meaningful employment where they can independently provide for themselves is the best gift you can give a person with a disability. Period.”
This National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Susan is sharing her story to highlight the important Equity In Action efforts that T-Mobile has accomplished and is committed to continue in the space of accessibility, as well as regards to hiring initiatives within the disability community at large.
“I’ve been helping with a Diversity and Inclusion pilot here at T-Mobile,” she explains, regarding the company’s most recent partnership with organizations like the American Association of People with Disabilities to provide paid summer internships for those who qualify (you can read one such intern’s story on our Newsroom).
“It’s taught us a lot of what’s working and what we need to work on,” says Susan. We want people to become employed at T-Mobile but I don’t see a lot of people like me, in part because it’s not an easy path to get here. I’m a persistent person and I don’t give up so the best thing I can do is help blaze a trail and show others the way.”
It’s that sort of persistence that has led to T-Mobile’s latest accolades within the space of disability advocacy and accessibility awareness. With the former disability advisor at the White House during the Obama administration, Claudia Gordon, at the helm as a Senior Accessibility Partner, the company has been full-steam ahead with its Equity In Action plan as part of its larger Diversity, Equity and Inclusion actions.
“At T-Mobile, disability inclusion and accessibility are essential part of our company culture and brand’s promise,” says Claudia. “We are proud to be recognized by Disability:IN as the Employer of the Year and as 2022 Leading Disability Employer by the National Organization on Disability (NOD). These honors reflect the work of employees like Susan Jolly across the company who bring our culture of “Be You” to life every day at the Un-carrier.”
And Susan says the continuous examination of what it means to each person to have a reliable system of equitable accessibility is necessary.
“The one thing I found is T-Mobile cares and wants to hire people with disabilities, but when we talk about equality, it may not be the way you define it because if I have visual or hearing loss and I can’t see or hear the information I need to do my job, then I need to have the tools to receive it in a different way than others,” explains Susan. “We believe in equality here, but equity is our focus when it comes to creating spaces for people with disabilities to have a positive workplace experience.”
I'm proof that you can do anything. You can break your neck and start all over from scratch.Susan Jolly
Susan started a personal blog called “What is Possible — Living Life as a Female WheelRider!” to share those lived experiences in hopes of empowering people like her as they navigate both their professional and personal worlds. What she was surprised to find is that much of the advice she was offering on her blog, which consists of topics such as career tips, leveraging technology, helpful training resources, and finding purpose and motivation, was inspiring non-disabled readers as well. She says early on many of her colleagues were coming to her in search of a mentor for things as universal as goal setting in their careers. People like Rushy Reddy.
“Without Susan’s guidance, mentorship, and support, I would not be where I am in my career today,” the T-Mobile supply chain manager says. “I’ve worked for Susan for two years, and in that period she has been instrumental in my journey to not just become a people leader, but one that leads with empathy, integrity, and courage. She sets the bar high and she never lets her disability be the deciding barrier to what she sets out to achieve.”
Rushy says Susan’s superpower is her ability to make time, holding bi-weekly syncs that focused on short-term and long-term goals that, he says, gave him tools he needed to grow both personally and professionally.
“What I’m most proud of at my tenure at T-Mobile isn’t the code I’ve developed or budgets I’ve successfully run, but instead is developing people,” says Susan.
And she hopes that by sharing her story, people will review any unconscious bias they may have about people with disabilities, so that we can all be open to learning from one another.
“There’s an innovative mindset I need in my personal life that translates well in my work life,” she says. “And people don’t always realize that because it’s not something you put on your résumé. But the most important skill I see in people with disabilities is we are innovative in order to survive in our everyday lives. And people don’t realize that innovation comes to work with us. They just see it as this disability, which limits the importance of our problem-solving abilities in many different contexts to be part of the driving force for moving T-Mobile forward.”