Among the 984 people honoured in the New Year list was sensory impairment social worker Henry Mayne, whose MBE is the result of a nomination from a client he worked with a few years ago.
Mayne, who works at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, says that the fact that he is totally blind was a key factor in the nomination, and is also highly significant in the way he works with clients more generally and colleagues.
The client who nominated him had lost a high-powered job as a sales executive after losing his sight, but Mayne worked with him to get his life back on track by giving practical and emotional support. Mayne says the client was inspired by his social worker’s example.
“He has said to me that he didn’t give up because he said ‘there’s someone doing a regular job with a visual impairment’.”
In time, the client went on to get a new job in a DIY shop and rose to become a manager.
“The financial reward was a lot less than when he was a sales executive but his dignity was intact,” says Mayne.
His impairment gives him empathy with his clients, and only one service user has been reluctant to work with him as a result of his blindness.
“Most clients say ‘you’ll understand what it’s like,” he says.
He says it could be both inspiring or intimidating for someone “coming to terms with the trauma of sight loss” to see a blind person such as Mayne living an independent life successfully. But he adds: “[My blindness has] been a real asset in terms of one-to-one relationships with clients.”
It also helps colleagues understand what it is like to be visually impaired, he says.
“[Visually impaired people] automatically devise wee strategies for coping with every situation whether that’s getting around, accessing information or managing around your home, and sometimes the formal training [in social work] may not give you access to these coping strategies. I speak to colleagues about this and say things like ‘that’s the way I would do it’.”
Mayne lost his sight when he was 16 and left school without qualifications to work in engineering industry. But when he was made redundant for the second time in 1980 he decided to do something different, taking his O-levels and then training to become a rehabilitation worker for people with visual impairment.
Having joined the then health and social services board in Belfast in 1986 he was persuaded by his line manager to train as a social worker and qualified in the early 1990s.
Besides his social work, Mayne is active in the voluntary sector: he founded and ran, for 13 years, a charity providing holidays and outdoor activities for visually impaired people, and was chair of the RNIB in Northern Ireland.
Besides his client, he also has his wife, Anna, to thank for his gong. She gathered together the relevant information to back up his case, which required several phone calls out of earshot from her husband.
“My wife was conspiring with others for about a year and I hadn’t any notion it was going on,” he says. “She’s delighted and the fact that she pulled it off without me discovering was quite an achievement.”
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