I have a business card that I have carried in my pockets for a week. It’s a simple design. Card stock, eggshell white, and not a hint of matte or gloss. The picture on the left is warped and yellowed by an errant drop of coffee, making the words that fill the body of the card seem like they were cast in boldface. This card has been through a hectic week. It’s been alternately shoved in a wallet or admixed with keys. It’s been slipped in with a notebook in a short white coat, tucked in the back pocket of a handful of pants, and now rests, folded, in the breast pocket of a pair of light blue scrubs. The card was handed to me by the Manager of Folding Towels, and every time I read it, I see it for the first time.
Blazoned across the top, “Jordan—Self-Advocate”.
Every time I read this I want to cry. Today I am sad, yesterday I was angry. The tears seem the same. I didn’t cry when he handed it to me. The immediacy of the moment demanded that I only glance down out of politeness and tuck it into the first of many pockets. I was at a seminar and he was one of the panelists. I took my seat in the audience.
Under the unambiguous title, the card read, “I have skills and value…”
The seminar was a discussion, “Disability and Healthcare,” and featured the director of the largest center for physical and intellectual disability in the region, a department head, a parent, and Jordan—a person with Down Syndrome, self-advocate and manager of folding towels.
“…I contribute to my community…”
The tone of the discussion was bleak. The panelists spoke about programs designed to provide critically needed support services but are killed in their infancy. Research that shows promise to elevate the standard of care but is suffocated for want of funds. Parents of children with intellectual disabilities that must fight a zero-sum game among themselves for funding for their child’s diagnosis.
“…I am more like you than different…”
Jordan, however, was a bright spot. I learned during the discussion, that Jordan folds towels at a Prairie Life Fitness Center, and that he has held this job for the past nine years. I learned that he lives independently with a roommate, and that he likes to watch football and drink beer.
“…I have hopes and dreams.”
I carried the card with me because I couldn’t bear to put it away. He gave it to everyone he passed. He gave it to all who attended the seminar. But for all this week I couldn’t fathom why he had these made. I don’t have any of my own business cards, but if I did, mine could be printed exactly the same, “Max—Self-Advocate. I have skills and value. I contribute to my community. I am more like you than different. I have hopes and dreams.”
He is a human being yet lives in a world where he feels he must remind us. This isn’t right, but maybe not for the reasons you would expect. Being a human being isn’t just his business, its everyone’s. If his humanity is diminished, then so is mine. It’s not right because business cards aren’t to justify our sameness, they are to exhibit our character. So, after the first day of carrying it around, I decided to make a change to it.
The card is still sitting in my pocket, where it has become at home. The bent corners. The coffee stain. The shaking note I made to give the card a new title: “Jordan—Self-Advocate, Manager of Folding Towels”.
Maybe it’s not a lot, but I see it as a reminder that he deserves the opportunity to stand up and be counted. Not just because he exists, and not just because he has a disability, but because he contributes to society therefore deserves recognition. Like anyone who might hand out a business card, he is owed the dignity of credit for his accomplishments. No one wants to use a dirty towel after they shower, and as small as it may seem, this is not a job that will do itself. The world needs a person to be in charge of folding towels, perhaps more than it needs another doctor. This simple title reminds me that he is unique, he is qualified, he has an important place in this world. He is the manager of folding towels, until, of course, he chooses to do something else.
Fred Seaman says
Max . I enjoyed the writting and the insight. My cousin Kevin had Down’s syndrone. He worked all his adult life at a local department store. It gave him a goal, a purpose ,a sense of worth and dignity. It was good to see and makes you realze the value of everyone.