by Pearl Feder
Tina O’Malley is the owner of O’Malley Communications Ltd, a company based in London and Kuwait, providing captioning and interpreting services. Tina is rather unusual in captioning provision as she is deaf herself, and she uniquely provides her services from a deaf user’s perspective, and in several languages.
Tina was born three months premature in Northern Ireland. Her hearing family raised Tina as a hearing person, which was a very hard and difficult experience for Tina. Tina was determined at an early age to overcome and move beyond the expectations for a hearing impaired/deaf woman. Here is her story.
Pearl: Tina, you told me how difficult it was for you to grow up in a family that made no allowances for your hearing loss. How did you manage to get by in your early years?
Tina: My mother would read every day with me and I could read by the time I started school at 3. I would always lose myself in a good book. When I was 9, I had one year out of school to focus just on speech therapy and English, which really helped my spoken language. I was expected to go to university so I always pushed myself towards that goal. As I was such a good lipreader, my family never realized how deaf I really am. Great lipreading skills worked for me socially, too.
Pearl: Did you attend the mainstream schools?
Tina: Yes. That was a difficult experience as I was the only deaf student in the school.
Pearl: Were you oral or did you use sign language interpreters in school?
Tina: Oral. It was so tough. I went to a PHU – Partial Hearing Unit (one class for deaf students) – with a teacher for the deaf, in a mainstream school until I was 11, gradually integrating fully into the mainstream school. I had a radio aid from age 11-16 but didn’t like to wear it. I wanted to look the same as everyone else! So I spent a lot of time reading and working hard, and that set my work ethic really.
I went to university and I got a 2:1 degree in Business with Japanese (which was fascinating). I grew up in Northern Ireland and I still have a Belfast accent. I love languages, I studied German and I am now learning Spanish and Arabic. My lifelong mantra: Who said deaf people can’t? We can!
Pearl: Are there any other family members with a hearing loss?
Tina: I am the only deaf person in my family and I was brought up as a hearing person which was a very difficult experience as no allowances were made for my hearing loss.
Pearl: Do you currently wear hearing aids or do you have a C.I.?
Tina: I had hearing aids’ until 2010, then I had bilateral implants
Pearl: What type of communication do you use most expressively and receptively?
Tina: I am a lipreader and now – only occasionally! – I listen with my CIs. My Hearing Dog helps a lot too. I can hear perfectly well now, but my brain doesn’t really know sounds and I’m still learning how to listen and interpret sounds.
Pearl: You mentioned you live in London and Kuwait. Why both of these countries?
Tina: I operate from and live in both London and Kuwait. I live in London and man the operations here, my business partner lives in and mans the Kuwait side, and I go to and fro to oversee both. I have clients in the Middle East and I am working hard to improve deaf awareness in that region.
Pearl: Why did you start a caption and interpreter agency? Is it located in London and/or Kuwait?
Tina: My agency is located in London and Kuwait. I started my agency because I use captions myself and I wanted to see a higher level of quality and availability. I am a lipreader and qualified lipreading teacher, and a qualified deaf awareness trainer. I know the value and benefits of captions, lipreading, and deaf awareness training for deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people. It is all part of the same package, it is all about good communications which benefit everybody. By the way, I was the first service provider to bring remote realtime captions to the UK ( 2 years ago). We really need to raise awareness of this wonderful technology.
Pearl: Do you believe in universal captioning? And why?
Tina: Yes. Captioning is for everybody, not just deaf people, and not just English speakers. It should be part of everyday life, and we shouldn’t have to fight for it or ask for it. It’s not a privilege – it’s a right. It is very interesting to see the variety of captioning provision in different countries. I think my most amazing moment was when I had a Japanese realtime captioner write for me, she was in Tokyo and I was in London, I loved seeing the Japanese kanji appearing on my computer screen as if by magic. We are so used to seeing English captions.
Pearl: In Kuwait, is captioning easily found in theaters, television, etc? Where is it lacking?
Tina: Captioning can only be found as subtitles for foreign language films and TV shows, and only in Arabic. Captions for the deaf / hard of hearing are not available in Kuwait. News and talk shows provide sign language interpreters in Kuwaiti Sign Language. A deaf Arabic speaking individual will not be able to watch the regular TV programs.
Pearl: How did you first come to know of CCAC?
Tina: I’m a blog-aholic! I’m always online and that’s how I bumped into Lauren, Founder of CCAC. I love the web, blogging, Twitter, Facebook and all that jazz. The internet makes information so accessible for deaf people today, it’s wonderful.
Pearl: Do you believe that hearing people understand what it means for us to have access to captioning and why?
Tina: No, I don’t think they do, generally, until they experience hearing loss for themselves. It really is an invisible disability, which impacts on every area of one’s life in lots of different and unseen ways. Around 50,000 deaf people in the UK are British Sign Language users but around 14 million deaf and hard of hearing people don’t sign (1 in 5) – we are the forgotten majority and we are the ones who really need access to captions.
Pearl: From your own personal experiences, what is it, that hearing people do not understand about our need for accessibility?
Tina: Access to captions means access to a whole world of work, educational, and social opportunities that we would otherwise not be able to access so easily. It also means that having captions as part of the everyday fabric of life empowers us, enables us to achieve more things, affords us greater independence. Without captions, we are cut off from other people.
Pearl: How can people reading this interview/newsletter help us obtain accessibility?
Tina: By spreading the word about CCAC, the importance of captions in everyday life to a wide range of people – deaf, hard of hearing, the elderly, and foreign language users. By letting people know that being able to communicate is a right. By telling people that being able to communicate is a simple thing. It’s about informing people of what is available to empower the communication-impaired, and how to access captions.
Pearl: When and where was your first captioning experience? How did you feel about this experience and what were your thoughts?
Tina: Hammersmith, London 2004. I was working for Action on Hearing Loss, and the CEO took me along to the theater. They were showing a play written in old English, with captions – one of the first plays captioned by Stagetext. I was amazed to see a perfect representation of the dialogue on a screen high above the stage, all of it in old style English. Previously, I had been to see Macbeth, I had sat there for 3 hours, not understanding a word and bored out of my mind. This time, I was fully included – without a fuss, without being ‘different’, without having to ask or argue for equal access. With realtime captions, I was able to enjoy the entertainment just like everyone else. It was the start of a love story.
The new website for O’Malley Communications is coming shortly:
In the meantime, you can find information at:
Contact Tina at: email@example.com