Society’s acceptance of special-needs persons in the workforce has been making slow progress, but progress nonetheless. A retired McDonald’s employee named Freia David helped forge that legacy after 32 years with the restaurant chain. Sadly, Freia passed away on April 30 at the age of 55.
When Freia David was just 21 years old, the world didn’t typically expect individuals with Down syndrome to contribute to society. She was a rarity when the Charles River Center, an organization that provides opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities, helped her get a job cleaning tables at the local fast food restaurant in Needham, Massachusetts.
Over the next 32 years, she worked her way up in a restaurant, eventually learning how to make french fries and thriving in the position. She became a part of the McDonald’s community, delighting regular customers who got to see her with a smile on her face day after day.
She finally retired in 2016, remarkably providing inspiration for the thousands of disabled individuals who have gone on to get work in the years following her hiring in the early 1980s. And while she passed away, her legacy is a testament of how disabled individuals can live normal, happy lives like anyone else.
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David grew up in Needham, graduating from the local high school while participating in Special Olympics and participating as one of the earliest enrollees at the Charles River Center. She took classes there starting at age 3, continuing to learn life skills that helped her thrive as she aged.
She became a bit of a local celebrity thanks to her job at McDonald’s, though, where she was able to establish herself as a reliable and friendly face day after day for her three decades of employment. And, she will be remembered.
Freia David, who had Down syndrome, participated in the Special Olympics, and received praise from Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, has died. https://t.co/JZpy17Gl8K pic.twitter.com/A05h0cwwIk
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) May 7, 2019
“In our busy lives, sometimes we forget to dance,” said Anne Marie Bajwa, of Charles River Center’s Chief Operations Office, at her retirement in August 2016. “But Freia doesn’t forget to dance at the fryalator.”
She was so popular among the community that her retirement was the kind of affair that most individuals only hope for when they finally punch off the clock for the last time. Her thank-you gifts for three decades of incredible work? “She got a proclamation from the state, a crystal model of McDonald’s, a french fry necklace and her favorite, a Minnie mouse,” wrote Boston 25 News.
“Freia was born to a loving family, having Down syndrome, but this never slowed her down. She graduated from Needham High School, participated in Special Olympics, had many friends, and enjoyed music, movies, and Mickey Mouse,” her obituary stated.
She may have passed away, but David’s thrill in being able to work is something that few truly get the opportunity to appreciate. And hopefully, her story is just the beginning for the Down syndrome community!