Email Login
Home About Destined Media Projects Contact
Back To Menu
Roisin Doherty
My friends don't see the disability, I'm just me


Róisín Doherty (née O’Hara) is 30 and lives with her husband in Derry. The eldest of four children, she attained NVQ qualifications in business and now works as a clerk for a local accountant. A founding director of Destined, she has Asperger Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Róisín was born in Dublin and lived in Donegal, before her family moved back to Westland Avenue in Derry when she was a young child. She describes her childhood as very happy – and her family as “really close”.  She attended Foyle View and later Belmont School, which greatly developed her confidence.

“I realised I had difficulty learning when I was about six or seven. I was really shy in school and found it hard to understand stuff. Sometimes I felt like it was too much for me. Some of the teachers were very nice they helped me get through my maths and English and stuff.

“I used to get upset a lot about things like when I made mistakes. But my mum and dad always supported me through my childhood.”

Outside school, though, Róisín was occasionally subjected to bullying and exclusion. She was a quiet child with few friends outside her class.

“People on the street called me names because of the way I walked and because of the cerebral palsy. I used to get left out of things a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I would be ignored a bit and left out of games. After a while I just didn’t go out because I had no one to play with. I sometimes played with ones in the street but a lot of the time I had nobody. Looking back on it now it was hard sometimes. I used to spend all my time on my own. But my brothers and sisters were always there for me. I am the oldest. Me and my brother were always very close.”

After moving to Belmont School, Róisín met her good friend Ciara, who brought her out of her shell. Róisín’s new teacher Jane Bryce was also a great help.

“I met Ciara in second year. She helped build my confidence and stood up for me if anyone was giving me abuse. I would [still] sometimes get abuse but I didn’t let it bother me as much.

“I would have got on along with most of the class but there were a few that were just trouble. I would keep clear of them. They would be smoking and fighting and picking on people. Some of them thought they were too smart for the school. Jim [Jim O’Reilly, who conducted this interview with Róisín] was an angel compared to some of the ones I knew.

“Jane Bryce in Belmont helped me a lot with my reading, writing and spelling. There were a few other teachers that helped me a lot, if I had any problems. I could just ask in class for help and not feel nervous.”

After Belmont, Róisín completed a number of courses in North West Institute, and studied drama in the Playhouse with Pauline Ross.

“In the Playhouse everyone chatted and included me. We were all like friends even though we didn’t know each other very well. And I loved performing drama.

“I was in a play about two Derry girls heading out for the night. We would look in the newspaper trying to find a night club, and at the end of the night we shared a taxi. It was just about a typical Derry night out. It was great because I got on really well with everyone and no one even knew I had a disability. Everyone was just treated as an equal.

 “Before we performed it, we used to play games to get to know each other. There was one were you had to fall back and the other person had to stop you from falling. I enjoyed getting to know people and it helped my confidence.”

As well as acting, Róisín studied dance – and is particular fan of salsa. And she also took courses in reflexology and aromatherapy; indeed she is so good that she’s “tortured” by people looking for her do their hands and feet.

Her first job after school was with the Citizens Advice Bureau, where she loved working with manageress Jackie Gallagher. She then had spells with Marks & Spencer and the Housing Executive, before joining Danny McGowan Accountants as a clerk five years ago.  “He is great. He is so easy going and down to earth.” Ideally, Róisín would like to work in computers – though she’s very happy where she is. Róisín has recently taken up a post with Destined as a support worker.

Outside work, she has plenty to keep her busy. She and her husband Gary have bought a house in the Rosemount area and planned their wedding last September. They also have a dog called Max to contend with and a hectic social life.

“I met Gary when I was 23 in Earth [nightclub]. We’ve been together since then and we’re got married last year in the Cathedral. He’s a mechanic and is really sound. We’re best friends. We went to Salou for the honeymoon. I would also like to go to America, we have cousins in LA – and I’ve been there twice.

“I don’t know if we’ll have children, probably not. He has lots of nieces and nephews, and we have the dogs. I don’t mind being an auntie for a few hours and then leaving them back!

“I was nervous telling Gary about my disability; some people just don’t want to know. And it’s hard to explain to someone that you have a disability. It’s very difficult to find people, when you’re different. But Gary is a very nice person and sees me as me. His friends too don’t see the disability – I’m just ‘Róis’. Some people talk down to you and might be patronising, but Gary and his friends are no bother.

“I went out with boys before Gary. One of them broke it off with a text message – ‘It’s over.’ That was cold.”

Like most young people, Róisín and Gary enjoy pubs and clubs, including their local, The Phoenix. They also enjoy going to the pictures, dancing, throwing the odd party in their house and sometimes just “chilling out”. Plus of course, there’s the nightly dog-walking. 

The young couple’s interests differ dramatically, however, when it comes to cars and fashion. “He’s into cars and I’m not. I can’t drive but I want to learn to cycle. Then I talk to him about fashion and he looks at me like I have two heads.”  

Facilities and support for people with learning disabilities has improved over lifetime, says Róisín. But there’s still a long way to go.

“Some things still annoy me like people talking down to me. I still notice that sometimes they talk like you can’t understand stuff. When I was younger some people would ask my mum and dad, ‘How’s Róisín doing?’ And I would be sitting there thinking, ‘Why don’t you talk to me?’ I felt like they thought I was my disability and not me. I felt invisible sometimes.

“I think it’s good nowadays because there are groups like Destined. And it’s easier to get work experience to get people to do jobs. It gives you more confidence.

“I found it hard growing up because of my learning disability and people making fun of me I have got more confident over the years because of certain people in my life. I think it was unfair how people treated me people just bullied because they didn’t know me. I got very upset and I used to go home crying sometimes.  One time when I was young I was bullied and had to go to my mum and dad because they wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s just made me stronger now. I just think of all those people and say, ‘Well look at me now.’ I am happy now.”