Christine O'Mahony: Lipreading in School

Christine O’Mahony was born in 1952 in Northampton. As a young child Christine spent time in Nazareth House children’s homes with her two sisters, before returning to family life in Camden, London aged five. Christine attended local C of E and Catholic primary schools and a local Catholic Secondary School, also spending time in hospital aged seven.

Here Christine talks about her difficulties trying to lipread in school and how that impacted on how she felt about herself.

  • Christine O'Mahony
  • Christine O'Mahony
  • Christine O'Mahony


Every week she’d give us a test and then you had to move your desk according to how you did in the test. So, you know, if you came first she did a big sort of U shape so that the first person would come there, the last person would come there and you’d come around in order of ranking. And that was actually difficult for me around deafness now I think about it, because where I sit in a room really does affect whether I can hear or not, and I realised I dropped back to about number six, which brought me around the corner so I could actually see her face and have my non deaf side towards her, you know. Interesting that, I never thought of that before but I think I did it strategically so that I wouldn’t be struggling in number one, two or three, you know, up to five was down there and then six to whatever was there and then the rest were down there, you know.

They do a lot of things with their back to you in secondary school with their faces to the board writing on the board saying, ‘Are you getting this?’ and kind of half turning towards you. And I didn’t realise it was ‘cause I couldn’t lip read ‘cause I wasn’t allowed to talk about my deafness or mention it as a problem at all to my parents, you know, my mum would say, ‘Christine’s deaf, but it’s not a problem,’ that was her phrase, ‘Christine’s deaf, but it’s not a problem,’ so I grew up saying, ‘Well I’m deaf, but it’s not a problem,’ you know.

And I couldn’t hear really, I mean, I know that now but at the time I thought I’d become stupid all of a sudden, you know, so I was missing whole chunks of lessons and struggling, you know, and for the first time in my life I was not number one, you know, or two or three. And though I hadn’t really thought it was that special, when I was coming twenty-sixth out of a class of thirty I was like devastated, you know, and really shocked, and really embarrassed and being nagged at home, being told off for it, you know. It’s really hard, you know. It was like, kind of being told 'you’ve just got to do what everyone else does, regardless', and it was really hard.

So I started to play up which is, you know, an obvious thing. I remember particularly in Geography and also ‘cause you change classrooms for every subject, you know, I couldn’t get in a place necessarily where I could hear, so it was all, you know, I mean it was just random, sometimes I could hear, sometimes I couldn’t, you know. And I remember particularly in Geography, the classroom was on the main road, there was a window onto the main road and it was very noisy out there in Holloway, you know, and the ear that I could hear best with, by then I was going deaf in that ear as well and my mum wouldn’t let me wear a hearing aid ‘cause she didn’t like people to know I was deaf and I couldn’t hear a fucking thing, you know, and I was sat on the side right by the window and I just remember being in class, totally puzzled and thinking I must be really stupid ‘cause I really don’t understand this, you know. So I was terrified other people would find out I was stupid, so I became very naughty.

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