General Manager of Mrs E'sPart of it, he said, is because it’s the responsible thing to do. But restaurant general manager Mark Maranell also points to definite business benefits too. And over the years, the people with developmental disabilities he has hired have proven to be excellent employees.

Ekdahl Dining Commons, or Mrs. E’s, at 1532 Engel Road on the Kansas University campus in Lawrence, currently employs 11 people with developmental disabilities among about 150 full and part-time staff. Since 1996, Mrs. E’s has employed 156 people with developmental disabilities. The largest dining facility on campus, Mrs. E’s is part of  KU Dining Services, under the Kansas Memorial Unions Corporation.

Mr. Maranell explained that the restaurant employs many college students, but students do not often like to take the morning and lunch shifts. He said the partnership he has developed with Joblink, the employment program for people with developmental disabilities at Cottonwood, the Community Developmental Disabilities Organization in Lawrence, is a key to filling this time slot.

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“They take the job seriously and do a good job,” Mr. Maranell said of his employees with developmental disabilities.

The positions filled include maintaining the dining room, washing dishes, keeping the salad bar full, and general clean up. Mr. Maranell said these workers show dedication to the job, and a good attitude.

“These team members average about 5 ½ years on the job and in a business that can see high percentages of staff turnover, that type of dedication is certainly appreciated,” he said.

Mr. Maranell listed other advantages to employing people with developmental disabilities. He said they:
- Have excellent attendance records.
- Demonstrate a sincere cheerful and positive attitude with a can-do spirit.
- Develop a good amount of dedication to their work.
- Display dependability and reliability (a key characteristic, he said, that is sometimes lacking in a few of our college student employees), and
- They are proud of their jobs and consequently show that pride in their work.

Most often, persons with disabilities employed at Mrs. E’s start with a Joblink job coach, assigned to help him or her learn the job and keep on track. The job coaches normally work with several employees, and often are able to fade away as the person gets used to the job.

“Job coaches make a huge difference,” Mr. Maranell said. “We have had people with varying degree of disability, and as they learn the job and become more confident, they apply for a full-time job and do very well. Then they don’t really need to avail themselves of the job coach any more.”

Mr. Maranell said hiring people with disabilities also brings diversity to both staff and customers.

“It’s a good experience for customers and fellow workers as well,” he said. “We really do try to embrace that.”