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This week, Russel O’Grady celebrates his 30th year working at a Mcdonald’s branch in New South Wales, Australia and they threw him a cool party with an even cooler cake.
Starting work experience as an 18-year-old boy, the managers quickly realised that Russel, who has Down’s Syndrome, had such an enthusiasm for the job and was an invaluable member of staff, so kept him on as an employee. Now at 48 years old, Russel still works at Mcdonald’s and is a well-known friendly face in the community. His father Geoff, describes him as somewhat of a local celebrity. ‘He’s very affectionate, dearly loved and appreciated, to such an extent that we just don’t believe it… people stop him on the street and shake his hand.”
Russel found his current position thanks to JobSupport; a government-run organization which helps people with intellectual disabilities find and maintain work, with Russel being one of the longest serving participants of the programme. But he won’t be putting smiles on customers faces for much longer, as he plans to retire from the job in two years; matching the 32 years of service from Freia David, another Mcdonald’s worker in Massachusetts, USA who also has Down’s Syndrome. Over 100 of her family, friends and fellow colleagues attended her leaving party earlier this year.
Geoff says the job has changed his son’s life and his perception of his own disability. He said: ‘Somebody said to him “Are you handicapped?” and his answer was “I used to be when I went to school, but now I work at McDonald’s” ‘Because other people who work there are normal, he assumes he is now too.”
Russel’s story is a perfect example of how society’s changing attitudes towards disability can greatly impact people’s lives and the wider community.