The small bit of gold on his black apron is easy to miss, but Robert Burcham is quick to point it out. He’s proud of the pin – complete with a tiny ruby and two diamonds – he recently received in recognition of his 20 years of service with Burger King.
Even with its gems, though, the award doesn’t shine nearly as brightly as Robert’s eyes when he talks about the job the 37-year-old started when he was a teenager.
Robert’s story reflects the experiences of many older people with developmental disabilities – a demographic that is growing larger every day as the general population ages and the medical community improves its ability to address the special health needs of people with disabilities.
A Damar client since he was 10, he lived on campus and three group homes before becoming an emancipated adult at age 21. Robert has been successfully living in the community for the last seventeen years.
Robert’s days begin early: Six days a week, he’s at work by 5:15 a.m. This dedication earns him the respect of his bosses. “He’s focused, and he doesn’t take shortcuts,” restaurant manager Cindy Joseph said. “He’s also reliable. He doesn’t miss work unless he’s really sick.”
Some of this dedication likely comes from how much Robert enjoys his work. He especially likes the routine for opening the store – turning on the fryers, flipping the menu boards in the drive through and setting up the kitchen. “He can do every job except for the cash register,” Joseph said. “He cooks, cleans, unloads trucks.”
Similarly, Robert says working for Cindy is easy. “She is good at telling me what to do. Then I just do it like she says to.”
While Burger King was Robert’s first and only job, many adults with disabilities have difficulty finding employment. He thinks more companies should consider hiring those with disabilities because, if given a chance, they can do a good job.
Do Cindy and Robert have advice for other employers considering hiring people with disabilities? Absolutely. Cindy urges employers to see the potential in workers with disabilities, and then recognize their strengths and use them. Robert says workers can succeed simply by being on time or early, being open to learning new jobs, and always doing the “extra” things.
It’s this attitude that earned Robert that flashy little pin. Of course, as proud as he is of it, there’s something else Burger King could do to make him happy: Bring back Cheesy Tots, a popular-but-temporary menu item not currently available.