It’s a simple thing, a business card. Typically, most people carry them, especially if they are interested in working. Most people with disabilities don’t. Should they?
As adults, part of the enculturation process into the world is to seek employment as a means for building a productive and meaningful life. Most people with disabilities have similar aspirations, if given the opportunity and support. As students leave the education system and begin to transition into adulthood, young adults with disabilities go through an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) or a Transition Planning (ITP) process. However, rarely considered in preparing these young people for life outside school is the simple, yet inexpensive idea of creating a business card as part of the transition from school to work and adult life.
Why is important to have a business card? Ask yourself, why do you have one?
Here is why I think people with disabilities should carry a business card with them even though they might not have a business or a job—yet.
- Perception is everything. A card, business or personal, implies competence. To illustrate this point, I want to tell you how this little used, very inexpensive strategy changed Mikelle’s life.
It started one day, after Mikelle had lived in her own condo located near downtown Denver for almost five years, where young professionals her age, in their twenties and thirties also owned condos in her building. For years, they have seen Mikelle in the elevator or passing through the lobby headed out for coffee. Often, they engage in light, superficial conversation with her. The prevalent perception of Mikelle was she is a pleasant, lively person with a disability surrounded by caregivers to help her access her community and live in her condo.
That is until the day when a box from Vistaprint arrived. Quickly, Mikelle loaded up her ruby-red wallet with a handful of her brand new business cards, the ones that show off her new book, Shining Beautiful, The Brilliance of Community in Action.
With a simple smile, she took the initiative to give her cards to those very people who never knew she worked. The conversation changed from “How are you today?” “Tell me about your business.” afterwards, it went to “I will check it out.” after that, “Let’s connect on Facebook.” To, “Do you have some of the jewelry with you?”
- Business cards are the bridge to a bigger conversation. The exchange of business cards stimulated a greater, deeper level of conversation, implying action. I have goals. I am going places—just like you.
Once Mikelle gave people her business card, a new-found respect emerged, common ground was found and the realization that Mikelle was more like them than they had thought. Often, those conversations lead to a sale of either her book or her jewelry.
A business card comes out of the wallet, and money goes into it—a very good day in Mikelle’s world.
Recently, Mikelle and I were hungering for a cappuccino and blended iced drink respectively. The afternoon warmed to a comfortable sixty degrees, so we sought out one with a nice patio in the neighborhood. I opened my laptop to do some writing as the sun warmed us down to the bone. I relaxed into my work, and Mikelle dug through her turquoise purse looking for the red wallet. In minutes, a business card was in her hand. She reached for the control on her wheelchair and zipped over to a neighboring table, stopping just short of two people, one, a woman with bleached blonde hair the other a young man.
Mikelle extended her card to the woman in an effort to market her jewelry business and perhaps solicit a “Like” for her Facebook page. Startled the woman reacted, shaking her head.
She said, “I am sorry. I don’t have any money today.” Initially, she thought Mikelle was begging for money. However, Mikelle persisted. The woman glanced at the card and said, “Wow. You have your own business?”
Mikelle proceeded to show her the portfolio of bracelets she carries with her for the just in case sale. One by one, she opened the pastel-colored organza bags, each time complementing her on the bracelets. Finally, she came to a necklace with a turquoise heart pendant.
Sighing, she said. “My daughter will love this, her birthday is next month. How much do you want for it?”
The power of a business card not only changed Mikelle from a beggar to a business woman. It changed the woman and her companion’s perception of what someone with a significant disability is capable of doing.
For ten dollars or less, why wouldn’t we have every student graduate with a business card in their hands? My guess is more of our graduating students would have a greater chance at a meaningful and productive life.
ACTION STEP: At the next IEP/ITP meeting, you attend, bring up the topic, take an active role and try it.
Let us know what happens!