Role Model: Jennifer Doherty

Role Model: Jennifer Doherty

My name is Jennifer Doherty. I’m from Donegal in Ireland, and I’m 28 years old. I enjoy listening to music and going to concerts, walking my dogs, spending time with friends, and generally just keeping busy

What is your personal experience of disability?

I was born eleven weeks premature, and lost my sight as a result. I only have light perception, but it has never held me back, because I don’t know any different. I was the first blind child to attend school in my local area, so it was a learning curve for everybody. I didn’t know many blind people growing up, so I spent all my time around sighted people and did the same things that they did.

When did you first start your engagement with disability issues and why?

I honestly didn’t really consider being blind to be much of a disability until I began studying at university and looking for employment. It was then that I discovered that it often presented challenges for me to overcome. When I trained with my guide dog O.J, I came into contact with a lot of other blind and visually impaired people from around Ireland. I found this useful because we could share stories, and I could learn from the more experienced guide dog owners. I became friends with some of these people because we had a lot of common interests. Up until then, I didn’t have any friends who were blind, and I had no real interest in making any either. Owning a guide dog has changed my life, and enabled me to meet many new people; however it was only when I began working in my current job in the Donegal Centre for Independent Living that I really took an interest in disability issues. Now it’s something that I am quite passionate about

Who has influenced you the most, and how?

My family, especially my parents have influenced me the most. They have never viewed blindness as something negative. Because of this, I grew up with a positive attitude, believing I could do anything I put my mind too.

Is it difficult for you to find a new job?

Having a disability definitely makes finding a job more difficult. There is still a lot of fear and ignorance around disability, and employers often don’t know how to help somebody, so it’s easier to employ a non-disabled person instead. It’s up to us to put ourselves out there and show people what we can do. We have to be able to talk about the support we need, and prove that we can still work efficiently in spite of our impairment. I believe we have to work much harder than non-disabled people, but that’s just part of life. If we don’t put ourselves out there as confident positive people, nobody is going to come looking for us and offer us a job. And could you blame them?

Describe your present employment and even your past employment experience

I finished college with a degree, but I was no further forward in knowing where to look for a job. I had no work experience and no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to do some voluntary work, which is something I would highly recommend to anybody with a disability. My first paid job was in an arts centre, where I worked mostly on radio and audio projects for almost three years. I enjoyed the variety of work, and the fact that it was very accessible for a blind person.

In February 2010, I began working for the Donegal Centre for Independent Living, where I am still currently employed. I had a personal assistant from there, but had no real idea of exactly what they did until I became an employee. I have learned a lot about the independent living movement, as well as getting to know lots of inspiring people with disabilities.

Of which achievement from employment are you most proud?

I’m most proud of the disability awareness program which DCIL delivers to schools around Donegal. It has grown significantly during the last four years. Feedback from students and teachers has been very positive. Students are becoming more aware of the challenges which people with disabilities face, while learning about independent living and disability in a positive way. I believe that the philosophy of DCIL is reaching a whole new group of people, who would otherwise never have heard of the organisation or what we do. Education is the key for a positive environment for people with disabilities in the future, and school is the perfect place to provide this education.

What advice would you give to young disabled persons?

I would encourage young people with a disability to believe in themselves, and that with the correct help and support, you can achieve anything you put your mind too. Don’t let other people tell you what you can and can’t do. You are the judge of that. Take the time to meet new people, ask questions and be open-minded. You never know what opportunities are ahead.

I personally believe that disability is only a negative thing if you let it be.

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