Ford program leads to more diverse workplace

April 6, 2010

Rhonda Hunt (foreground) preps vegetables in the kitchen at Ford Dining Court. Hunt, who is blind, works at Ford through the "Beyond Limitations: An Environment of Inclusiveness, Caring, Comfort, and Success" initiative. Ford Dining Court received a 2010 Focus Award for the program.

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Editor's note: Five members of the Purdue community were honored March 2 with Focus Awards for their outstanding contributions to furthering the University's commitment to disability accessibility and diversity. This profile focuses on the organization recipient, Ford Dining Court.
Since its opening in 2004 as the first freestanding place to eat on campus, Ford Dining Court has been a culturally diverse workplace.

But with nearly 8,000 meals to serve per day in that inaugural semester, Ford needed more help during the lunchtime hours than its 300 student workers could provide. As a result, managers developed "Beyond Limitations: An Environment of Inclusiveness, Caring, Comfort, and Success." The 2010 Focus Award-winning initiative is designed to promote the hiring of physically and emotionally challenged individuals from the Lafayette-West Lafayette area.

These temporary employees vary in terms of age, spoken languages and disability, but all are an integral part of the day-to-day functions and the overall culture of the organization, says Barb Maughmer, Ford Dining Court manager.

"They're just so proud of what they can do," Maughmer says. "How they fill these little niche voids -- they can do many things. And at Ford, that's what it is about. If you do your job, all is well."

Ford employs people with disabilities, but many of them go unnoticed by passers-by and even the student employees. One temporary employee has been legally blind since 1989. Yet it doesn't seem that way as she stands at her station cutting vegetables with a knife on a daily basis, says Maughmer..

Other temporary employees have suffered brain traumas or simply have balance issues. But Maughmer and Ford still find jobs for them despite their disabilities.

"Our only hurdles are just making sure they're safe," Maughmer says.

And the opportunity to perform tasks that many others would find remedial doesn't go without appreciation.

"As soon as you're handicapped, your regular means to do a job are eliminated," says temporary and disabled employee David Black, who washes pots and pans at Ford. "As soon as you're disabled, you don't exist."

Maughmer says the Ford program is only trying to give disabled employees that sense of self-respect everyone wants and needs so badly.

"People with disabilities still have capabilities," Maughmer says. "Some people have special needs, but everybody just helps everybody."