You might not have heard of him, but Russell O’Grady is a local legend in the Sydney suburb of Northmead, and can barely walk down the street without someone stopping him for a chat. He’s also a bit of a legend to his managers and workmates at McDonalds, where he has been working for the last 30 years.
This might not seem overly unusual, but Russell O’Grady has Down Syndrome, and is one of the first ever disabled people to be placed in work through Jobsupport’s program to place people with intellectual disabilities into employment in the regular workforce.
McDonald’s acknowledge young Russell’s potential
Russell was 18 when he started his work experience at McDonalds, one of the first 100 disabled people to be placed in ordinary employment anywhere in Australia. Before then, people with Down Syndrome were often hidden away in sheltered workshops or work programs that took place away from the general public.
Today, there are thousands of people in similar roles, but in 1987 Russell was a rarity. Full credit to McDonalds, who saw potential in the plucky smile of the go-getting 18 year old and offered him a job putting party boxes together for the birthday kids – 30 years later he is still in the business of sharing joy at the same Northmead restaurant.
Russell’s life is changed forever
Today, his role is to clear trays, sweep the restaurant and – his favourite job of all – to greet the customers. The Northmead clientele have fallen in love with Russell’s beaming smile and welcoming demeanour, and he has become a much-loved character within the local community.
This job changed Russell’s life, and he is a stellar example of the unique contribution that disabled people can make to the workforce, bringing their own skills and qualities to the table. His work at McDonald’s over the last 30 years has given him independence, access to the community, friendships and a strong sense of self-esteem.
He plans to retire when he turns 50 in the next couple of years, but until then he can still be seen in that iconic red uniform, greeting customers at the door with a smile – just another day with his Maccas team members and buddies.