SBHI Board of Directors’ member John Henry has an impressive CV with more than 20 years’ experience in the construction industry and a Master’s degree in Quantity Surveying amongst his educational accomplishments.
Living with spina bifida, John, who is from Co. Mayo, has good mobility and describes himself as being very lucky health wise which has enabled him to work full-time throughout his professional career.
Working in the family business, T.H. (Contractors) Ltd. (building / civil engineering/ public works main contractor) in Castlebar since graduating from college in 1996, he says the fact that he is ambulant means that he has not experienced access restrictions.
“I have not come across any real access restrictions in terms of being able to work on site and in the office and there have been no restrictions and no discrimination from work colleagues in the profession over the years,” says John.
“Through the family construction business, I have had the opportunity for further education and work experience on different projects over the years.
“Achieving safety qualifications and a Master’s in Quantity Surveying helped me to assist in building the business.
“I have had very positive experiences in accessing employment and in continuing to work. However, my mobility is good and I possibly might have had a different experience if I was a wheelchair user.”
While John’s own experiences in NUIG and DIT Bolton Street were all good and positive, he believes that access to education for people with disabilities has improved significantly since his college years in the mid-1990s.
“There were disabled access officers in my time, however, the supports have improved since then and there has been a good improvement in the number of people with disabilities who go to college.
“Access to further education after Leaving Certificate for people with disabilities is good, however, the situation with people with disabilities gaining employment after completing their education is definitely still an issue.”
John believes that part of the problem with the low level of employment for people with disabilities is that employers are not sure of their needs and are afraid of what would be required in taking on a person with a disability.
“We need to encourage government departments to provide more funding to encourage employers to train and employ people with disabilities,” says John.
“We need state employers and multi-nationals to devise training programmes and have liaison officers to help place people with disabilities on work placement in different organisations to help and encourage both employer and employee.
“This would ensure that both employer and employee would have a good experience and it would lead to the person being kept on in the company.
“It would help to encourage employers to take on more people with a disability. If there was more liaising with government agencies and disability organisations to monitor the provision of adaptive grants etc., this would hopefully lead to more people with disabilities being in successful employment for longer.”
John is not only a high achiever professionally, as since childhood, he has been an active volunteer and participates in sporting and social pastimes.
“Through school I got involved in swimming which is my exercise of choice as I found I could do so without limitations. I was never involved in team sport as I would not have had the capability for football,” says John.
“I like keeping active, swimming helps my flexibility and using equipment such as cross trainer and rower keeps my limbs active. I also enjoy playing pool and snooker and recently beat former world snooker champion Steve Davis in a one frame pool challenge”.
When John was 16, he travelled to Lourdes with the Irish Pilgrimage Trust (IPT), the organisation which brings young people with disabilities to Lourdes each Easter.
“Having experiences as a young person of being away from home with other people with disabilities, carers and group leaders gave me the confidence to complete my education and get more confidence in myself to do the things I want to do in life.
“I really enjoyed it and continued to go to Lourdes every year for a number of years, first as carer and then as a group leader which mentally took me out of my comfort zone as I had to delegate tasks and try and pair the personalities of carers and young people with disabilities together correctly,” says John, who was also a Trustee on the Board of the IPT from 1998 to 2008.
“Lourdes and the Irish Pilgrimage Trust have a special place in my heart as I met my wife Caroline in Lourdes in 2002 whilst on pilgrimage”.
When John and Caroline moved to the Carracastle area a few years ago he began volunteering with the local Tidy Towns group and Pastoral Council as a means of staying active, getting to know people, and giving something back to the community.
And having ‘grown up’ with SBHI – his parents have been involved with SBHI’s Mayo/Leitrim/Roscommon Branch since 1981 – it was inevitable that John would become involved too. He was Chairman of the Mayo/Roscommon/Leitrim Branch from 2005 to 2015 and is currently Vice-Chairman of SBHI National Board of Directors.
“When I was about eight or nine my parents started bringing me to branch events like the Christmas party and I am still friends with a core group of five to eight members whom I have known since childhood.
“The branch was always really family based, we were all learning from each other and that same ethos is still there to the present day – there is something very special about the whole SBHI family.
“I really enjoyed my time as Chairman of the branch, learning from parents and young people and keeping up the friendships built up over the years,” he says.
“My Branch nominated me for the board of directors and I was elected a year-and-a-half ago. I am really enjoying being involved with Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland on a national level as it is good learning about all the issues in terms of funding and in continue securing improved access for people with disabilities.”