Life without the gift of Sight - Jennifer Doherty

“I don’t think my senses are any better, it is just that I use them more”

“I don’t think my senses are any better, it is just that I use them more”

Jennifer Doherty, twenty-five years of age has a quite, gentle nature and a beguiling smile. At the time of this article Jennifer is making plans to move into her own home on the opposite side of town to her parents. The only thing that makes her different to her friends and peers is that Jennifer is blind.

I met Jennifer in the offices of Donegal Centre for Independent Living (DCIL) where she works between a post as receptionist, raising awareness on disability in schools and writing articles for DCILs Newsletter.

“I enjoy meeting the students in school and presenting a positive perspective of disabilities. ”

As I listen to Jennifer and hear about her life ‘been the same as everyone else’ is the one theme that runs throughout, that and her quiet positivity.

Jennifer achieved the second highest in her Leaving Certificate, qualified with a Degree in Ethnomusicology from Queen’s University and now works voluntarily with Inishowen Community Radio and the Verbal Arts in Derry. There is no doubt Jennifer is a high achiever and independence her middle name.

Looking back Jennifer talks about her parents, Michael and Josephine who had to negotiate unchartered waters with Jennifer.

“Initially I think they were tempted to ‘wrap me in cotton wool’ but that would not have been good for anyone, so I was treated the same as my sister Maureen and brother Colum. ”

Jennifer went to the local national school in Buncrana, where her Mum teaches. Been sent away to Dublin from Monday to Friday to the National School for the Blind was not an option as far as Jennifer’s parents were concerned. Instead a local Social Worker was able to begin teaching Jennifer Brail and a qualified teacher then came once a month after she started school.

“I loved national school, it was a great experience. At that time there were no classroom assistants ‘that makes me sound ancient Jennifer laughs’ but my cousin Sarah was with me and we are very close and the friends I made then are still my best friends now. I didn’t even think about been blind in school because I wasn’t treated any differently. ”

There was a natural transition into secondary school and Jennifer was given a full time assistant that ensured Jennifer could keep up with the rest of her class. With the use of headphones and Jaws a laptop with a screen reader Jennifer’s multi-tasking skills were well tested and she passed her Junior and Leaving Certificate as previously stated with flying colours.

It was Jennifer’s great love of music that veered her towards Queen’s University. Jennifer jokes…. I think I must have been adopted because all my family love sport and I am the only one who loves music.” The three years in Queen’s were challenging for Jennifer as because of her disability she was based in Residence. “ Having to get to know a whole new year and not having the support of my friends was very difficult at times.”

Jennifer gave the example of having ten people on the one floor using the same kitchen. Some were tidy, some were not “…. but in the end I gave up tidying after them, unless my mother was coming.” Some things never change! Jennifer feels there is room for improvement from a disability perspective in Queen’s and one area in particular would have been the benefit of having a guide dog.

O.J. Jennifer’s beautiful black Labrador guide dog of the past four years has really added a great dimension of security and independence for Jennifer. In 2007 Jennifer loved her three weeks training in Cork with the Irish Guide Dogs. “There are so many things to be considered before you are matched, whether you live urban, rural, your personality, even down to the speed of your walk. I love dogs and found connecting to O.J. easy, though it is hard work, as I had to learn how to train O.J. People think the dog guides you, but it is you who train the dog and that is quite a responsibility, so you have to be over sixteen before you can get a guide dog. ”

Jennifer has always wanted a place of her own, where she can have her friends and play her choice of music on her surround sound is a high priority. Jennifer is like every young women of her age she enjoys going to the pub, to concerts and gigs. It is important to look you’re best Jennifer says and her sister and friends ensures she’s up to date with the latest fashion.

Jennifer’s family, friends, past teachers and tutors have also supported Jennifer to be that independent person and not let’s not forget O.J. but also crucial is the organization that Jennifer works for Donegal Centre for Independent Living…” Having a personal assistant for 14 hours a week allows me to do my own shopping, to travel, to work, to be a volunteer and most of all to live independently….this is wonderful…. And I would like to say a special thank you to all who make this possible.”



VENUE: NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network, 6 Tír Chonaill Street, Donegal Town. Feel free to bring food to share.

10.00 a.m. Tea/ Coffee/Scones;

10.30 a.m.-11.30 a.m., Julie Voss, Parentstop, will be joining us. This will be an opportunity to hear about the support services and to answer any questions parents may have.

11.30 a.m.-12.00 p.m. Tea/ Coffee; 12.00 p.m.-1.00 p.m. Relax Attacks. Stress management and relaxation techniques facilitated by Eileen Mc Gonigle; 1.00 p.m.-2.00 p.m. Light lunch; 2.00 p.m.-3.00 p.m., Fun with Salsa dancing led by Rosemary O Flaherty from Columbia; 3.15 p.m.-4.15 p.m. Women’s Hour - facilitated by Nóirín Clancy, Women Into Public Life; Evening Session,

7.00 p.m. – 9.00 p.m., An evening of light entertainment with food, songs and stories from women from various countries whose home and maybe even their hearts are now in Donegal.

Donegal Women’s Network is a county –wide women’s organisation funded under the Irish Government’s National Development Plan 2007– 2013 (NDP) from funds made available by the National Lottery. If you would like more information please contact us: The National Collective of Community-based Women’s Networks- Donegal Women’s Network, 6 Tír Chonaill Street, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal Tel: 074 9722790 E-mail




I get a Carer’s Allowance for one of my children. My husband is working and we get FIS (Family Income Supplement). I heard that our FIS might be reduced. Can you explain why?


It was announced in Budget 2012 that income from carer’s payments (Carer’s Benefit and Carer’s Allowance) will be included as means when calculating the amount of Family Income Supplement that you get. The change applies from January 2012 for new applicants and at your yearly renewal for all others. However, this is to be brought in over 3 years as follows:

In 2012 one-third (1/3) of any family income (to you or to your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant) from a carer’s payment will be assessed. In 2013 two-thirds (2/3) of any income from a carer’s payment will be assessed. In 2014 income from carer’s payments will be fully assessed.

For example, if you have been getting a Carer’s Allowance of €204 a week, €68 will now be taken into account as means against your FIS when your FIS is renewed.

In addition, income from working as a home help for the HSE (Health Service Executive) will be assessed for all new FIS claims from January 2012 and on renewal for other claims.

Citizens Information: 0761 074000 &