AraMark Disabled Employees in the Work Place

McLeod Brown | Staff Writer

Across the dining halls on campus, mentally handicapped employees can be found performing duties and jobs that go along with the protocol of running a successful college eatery. Students often acknowledge the fact that the handicapped work at the school and ponder as to why and how they obtain and perform their jobs. After digging deeper and discovering details about the program that employees these workers, the process is not all that complicated.

About one-third of the employees in UNCW’s dining halls are handicapped. Wayne Boyd is a current disabled employee of AraMark who works at the Wagoner dining hall on campus. He can be seen mostly vacuuming the floors, disposing of trash, and cleaning the tables, the latter of which he cites as his favorite part of the job. Boyd has been working at “Wag”, as it’s known to students, for over eight years. Additionally, he attends Cape Fear Community College three times a week, learning basic adult functions such as counting money and telling time.

After high school, many people enter college or the professional world. For disabled people, however, options are limited. Many of the disabled employees on UNCW’s campus have been placed there through Vocational Rehab of North Carolina, which they are usually referred to by a doctor. Once the company analyzes the prospect’s resume, “an individual plan for employment is jointly developed by the consumer and counselor,” says its website. Supported employment then becomes involved with the prospective employee.

“Supported employment provides competitive opportunities for persons of disabilities,” said supervisor Frederick Schaff, a hands-on trainer of disabled employees for Easter Seals, a company that specializes in helping the disabled. “This enables persons with disabilities the opportunity to go out into the community and compete for a job that pays the same wages as a person that does not have a disability.”

An interesting part of the trainers’ job deals with the human emotion involved in it. Working with people, disabled or not, for a lengthy amount of time creates attachment among them. Sometimes this creates a very problematic situation for the trainer.

“It’s very important that we maintain what they call a ‘therapeutic’ relationship,” said Schaff. “It ruins a lot of people. In the work I’m in, people come in and they get too personal, too attached, too emotional. You have to stay focused on what your job is and that is to find them employment. You have to learn to separate yourself.”

Boyd lives in a group home owned by Easter Seals. He lives with two other disabled people and a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week caretaker employed by Easter Seals to perform such duties as making meals and doing laundry. Once a month, Wayne goes home for a weekend and stays with mom and dad.

The disabled are treated no differently at AraMark than any employee. They receive the same pay, no more, no less. If they are behaving poorly on their job or not performing up to standards, they receive progressive warning and may eventually be terminated. Then they’ll cycle back through the Vocational Rehab of NC process.

“One of the things I’ve learned working with persons with disabilities, outwardly they may look like they have a disability. Inwardly they may be as sharp as you, having clear, concise thoughts, desires, but when they try to communicate it, physically show it to you, it doesn’t connect. But inside, they can be normal,” said Schaff.

For Boyd, he’s happy where he is in life and would not change a thing.

“I love working here,” said Boyd. “I get more money every night. I love this job.”