Jennifer Interviews - John Doherty

John Doherty from Letterkenny is a Leader (a person who uses a Personal Assistant service) and board member of DCIL. Blind since birth, he is currently studying administrative management at LYIT through the support of the Donegal Centre For Independent Living.

John attended school for the blind in Dublin, but returned to Letterkenny when he was a teenager to complete his education at the vocational school. He had a special needs assistant (SNA) to help him in class, but socialising with his peers was more difficult.

ďI was telling my key-worker from NCBI that I wanted to go out and socialise. All my classmates had part-time jobs and they would use their money to go out drinking. They would come in on Monday morning and talk about all the drinks theyíd had, and about the great time they had.Ē

John did work experience at Cheshire, and went out with the people who worked there sometimes. His only other social event was his involvement with the Letterkenny canoeing club, which he is still a keen member of today. He always imagined that a personal assistant would only be used for academic purposes, but his social life was transformed when he was referred to DCIL and filled in his application form.

"I was only seventeen, and too young to have a PA, but they made an exception when I was almost eighteen, which was great. If I didnít have a PA to help me to socialise at that time, I donít think I would have passed my leaving cert. Socialising is a big part of life, and I would have always been wondering what I was missing. It created a balance with studying, and it helped to drive me forward. I didnít care what I got in my leaving cert, but I just wanted to do it. If I didnít go out and socialise, I would probably still be sitting around the house wondering what to do with myself."

John has two Personal Assistants employed by Donegal Centre for Independent living. Shane helps him to get around the college, reads out notes from the board, and types in any extra information that the lecturer gives.

"John has two Personal Assistants employed by Donegal Centre for Independent living. Shane helps him to get around the college, reads out notes from the board, and types in any extra information that the lecturer gives."

Tom accompanies John to the gym, sports events, and to the cinema, pub or wherever he wants to socialise.

"Personally I think itís easier to have a PA with me for socialising. I donít always feel comfortable asking people to bring me around, and I donít want to be relying on people either. Some of them have never met a blind person before other than me. If I havenít been out with people on my own before, I wouldnít expect them to bring me around."

"Having a Personal Assistant has certainly given me a lot of confidence, and socialising in a group of people has become easier. In school the SNA wasnít there to help socially, they were there to do a job. The PA is also doing a job, but they are doing what you want them to do, whether that be going to the pub, to sports events or doing assignments. Sometimes if Iím chatting to somebody, my PA will just go off and leave me to it because he knows that I donít need help. It has been a huge help to my family as well. I wasnít able to go out on my own and I think they were wondering what would happen to me, but now they are happy enough. My mum doesnít have to give up her day to do something with me because the PA can do it."

John hopes to get a guide dog in the future, and that this will make a huge difference to his overall level of independence.

"I have always had a problem finding my way around. Part of it is laziness, and part of it is a confidence thing. There are mobility services available to teach blind people, but the town in general is difficult because there are no useful landmarks in some areas. I hope that owning a guide dog will make things easier."

Becoming a guide dog owner is just part of Johnís plans for the future.

"After college, I would like to get myself a job, have my own money and get my own house. When you have a disability you have to be confident, and I think thatís something I have to learn to do. Some people are naturally confident and can easily go up and chat to anybody. Thatís just their nature, but itís not mine.Ē Having a Personal Assistant and support from the Donegal Centre for Independent Living is teaching me to become more confident, realise my potential and help me to eventually reach that stage of independence."