Faces Behind the Screen: Elin Williams
Elin Williams is the 20-year-old Welsh author of the award-winning disability and lifestyle blog, My Blurred World. She started the blog back in April of 2015, and although her writing once centered more around accessible beauty, it has since evolved.
My Blurred World is almost like a diary for me now, a place full of my feelings and emotions.
Her blog, which now has over 200 published posts, is what Elin describes as a “safe space,” where the content is an honest account of her interests, passions, and experiences as someone with a visual impairment.
In part one of Elin’s interview, she shares more about her passions and interests and tells us about how My Blurred World came to be the blog it is today.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Next to your blog, what else are you up to?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I’m currently studying a BA Honours degree in Arts & Humanities, specializing in English Language and Creative writing with The Open University. One of my main interests is writing and that’s one of the main reasons I started my blog but another huge interest of mine is music, I absolutely love going to concerts – Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes being two of my favorite artists I’ve seen live. I also love fashion and I love researching the latest trends, I spend far too much time (and money) on new items for my already jam-packed wardrobe!
What were your childhood interests and hobbies?
ELIN WILLIAMS: Going back to my interest in music, I played quite a few instruments when growing up, the piano was the first I learned to play when I was about 8 years old followed by the harp and I then taught myself to play the guitar and ukulele with the help of my younger brother. I also really enjoyed going out on my bike before my eyesight deteriorated further so I’d go on rides with my friends and my brother, whoever was in front of me would wear a fluorescent jacket so I could see to follow them but I still had a few crashes. It was all a part of the fun though!
What are you most passionate about now? What do you want to do most in your life and career?
ELIN WILLIAMS: One of my biggest passions is writing, there’s not a day that goes by without me writing something down whether it’s a blog post, an assignment for university or some personal notes and memories. I’m very career-driven and I would absolutely love to work within the media, either in communications or journalism but I’m also very interested in helping fellow blind and vision-impaired people, something I’ve done in previous employment so I definitely have plenty of options.
What has been one of your proudest moments?
ELIN WILLIAMS: When I was younger I was incredibly proud when I passed my piano and harp music exams and I’m proud of my GCSE and A level exam results especially since there was that added barrier in terms of doing the exams in different formats to others my age. But now I’d say that one of my proudest moments is when I was named as one of the top 100 most influential disabled people in the UK in the Shaw Trust Disability Power List last year. I used to be incredibly shy and I didn’t ever see myself having an impact or making a difference so when I found out about that recognition, it was so surreal, definitely a moment I’ll never forget.
Now I’d like to talk a bit about your blog, which is an award-winning blog. Congratulations on that! I was just so excited when I came across “My Blurred World” because it’s very beautifully done, and I think it’s very helpful for a wide range of people. It seems that you’re writing your blog so that it’s for everyone, whether the reader has a disability or not.
My Blurred World seems like it’s helpful for a wide range of people. Is that intentional? When you write, do you hope to deliver content that will benefit anyone who may come across your blog?
ELIN WILLIAMS: Yes definitely. When I started my blog, two of my main aims was to raise awareness of sight loss but also to help others who might be in a similar situation to me. I like creating content that’s quite diverse which I hope will appeal to a wide range of people. I always write straight from the heart, however cheesy that may sound, but I think that means that my content is open and honest which perhaps leads to it being more readable and relatable, I’d like to think so anyway! I’ve always said that if I can help just one person, whether that’s helping a non-disabled person to gain a better understanding or if it’s helping someone who has experienced similar things to me to realize that they’re not alone then I’m on the right track.
When did you start blogging for “My Blurred World?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I started just over four years ago in April 2015 which is crazy to think about now. I started blogging at a time when I was feeling really lonely and isolated because of my vision impairment and I started having panic attacks around that time as well. I was writing my feelings down in Word documents just for myself but as I became more aware of the concept of blogs, I figured that maybe I could turn what I was writing just for my own benefit to be something more public, something that could perhaps help others who were in a similar situation, so that’s what I did. The main inspiration behind it was those feelings I was noting down for myself and this urge I had to share them but to also raise awareness of vision impairment. I thought it might be possible that others were feeling the same way I did so I wanted to explore that avenue. Little did I know that it would receive the feedback that it has and that I’d be sat here 4 years later with over 200 blog posts published to the internet!
How has “My Blurred World” evolved over time?
ELIN WILLIAMS: It has evolved in so many different ways. Although it was a platform for me to voice my emotions, it had a little more focus on accessible beauty at the beginning since makeup was something I was dabbling in more and more at the time and I liked sharing that interest and expressing how it could be made accessible. But I’ve moved away from beauty dominated content over the last couple of years and My Blurred World is almost like a diary for me now, a place full of my feelings and emotions along with concert experiences, some fashion related posts and so on. I’d say that my blog is more open and honest now than it ever has been before and I’d like to think that’s my unique selling point in a way, the fact that I talk so openly about topics that I could barely speak one word about a few years ago. My blog is now my safe space, somewhere I find comfort and it’s always lovely to receive feedback from others because that’s been a massive part of helping me to feel less alone.
How often do you sit down to write for your blog, and what is your writing process?
ELIN WILLIAMS: It always varies depending on how busy I am in terms of other commitments but I publish a new post once a week if I have the time and inspiration for content that is. I could write a couple of posts in a week depending on how many emotions I have built up but it’s always nice to have those inspired moments because it helps me to plan for future content. Once I have an idea in mind about what I want to write, I’ll plan out what key points I want to include just so I don’t miss anything out since I tend to get carried away when writing. And then that plan is translated into a blog post, I just absolutely love writing.
You have such a wide range of blog posts, from talking about finding confidence to addressing misconceptions about people with disabilities. Where do you get all of your ideas for blog posts?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I get this question a lot actually and my answer is always the same, inspiration comes when I least expect it. Ideas can come to me after I’ve come across a misconception, if someone has asked me a specific question about my disability or when a topic is popular in the press and I feel like it’s important to highlight. I never knew that there could be so many avenues to explore in terms of different topics and I have to admit that there are times when inspiration doesn’t come naturally and times when I feel like I’ve run out of things to talk about. But I’m a really creative person so I try my best to express that in terms of the content on my blog and I try my best to let things come to me naturally rather than forcing content as it’s more enjoyable to write that way. I’m always trying to find different things to talk about but keeping that variety in terms of the topics I cover as well, I like to be unique and I like to write about things that no one else has done before because I feel like it helps to keep things fresh and there’s no fun in being like everyone else, is there?
What is your number one goal for “My Blurred World?” What fuels your desire to keep writing content and keeping the blog going?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I’m so incredibly lucky to have received such lovely feedback from people all over the world and hearing their kind comments always motivates me to keep sharing so that’s definitely one of the main reasons why My Blurred World is still going strong. But as I’ve said before, it’s a platform where I can relieve so many of my own emotions and find comfort in doing so and I hope it’s a space online where others can find comfort too. I’ll always stay true to the main reason I started which was to raise awareness and help others who might be in a similar situation and my passion to do so is what keeps me going. Blogging can provide you with so many skills as well which is something I never realized before I started so I’d love to be able to apply those skills to my career and other projects in the future.
In part two of Elin’s interview, she goes into more detail about her experience living with Retinitis Pigmentosa. What does she want people to know? Her visual impairment doesn’t hold her back from experiencing fun in her twenties.
Our experiences are the same in terms of the fact that we can all still have fun and enjoy our time as young people.
Do you identify as blind, low vision, or vision-impaired, or something else entirely?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I used to identify myself as partially sighted but as my vision has deteriorated and since I’ve been registered blind for 9 years now, I always identify myself as being blind, vision-impaired or sometimes severely sight impaired.
Would you describe what Retinitis Pigmentosa is and how it affects you or the people who have it?
ELIN WILLIAMS: Retinitis Pigmentosa affects everyone in different ways, it’s like an umbrella term with so many different variations hiding underneath. One common symptom for everyone is night blindness and this was one of the most challenging things for me when growing up. The condition is a degenerative one but everyone’s sight can take a different amount of time to deteriorate, it might be months for one person whilst it could be years for the next. For me personally, my eyesight deteriorated dramatically as I went through my teenage years, I’m now nearly 21 and I don’t have much remaining vision. I can see colors, lights, and shapes but no detail.
What about your experience is different from that of someone else in their 20s who is fully sighted, and what about your experience is the same?
ELIN WILLIAMS: It’s a difficult one, to be honest, I quite often feel like people see me as being ‘different’ because of my disability and that can present barriers especially when wanting to meet and talk to new people. I’d say one of the main differences between me and a fully sighted person in their 20’s is the barrier to employment. Getting a job is difficult nowadays even if you don’t have a disability but I often think about the fact that if I could see, I could do the average job people my age do such as working in a cafe, a shop or a bar. I guess our experiences are the same in terms of the fact that we can all still have fun and enjoy our time as young people, something which has shocked some of the people I’ve talked to in the past! Granted I tend to stay away from loud clubs and bars since I can feel quite vulnerable in those situations but I still go out with my friends, go to concerts, go shopping and so many other things that you’d expect people my age to do. It’s all about adapting at the end of the day.
What are common mistakes sighted people make when interacting with people who are blind or have low vision?
ELIN WILLIAMS: One of the most common mistakes I come across is when a fully sighted person talks to the person I’m with rather than talking to me directly, thinking that I can’t speak for myself. It’s definitely one of the most frustrating things and can feel belittling at times. Others have raised their voice because they think I can’t hear them and also pulled or grabbed my arm, trying to guide me somewhere instead of asking if I wanted that help in the first place. I know this happens often to fellow blind/VI people too which I guess highlights the lack of understanding there is out there.
I’m sure there are many, but what’s one thing that people shouldn’t say to people with a vision impairment?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I could give you such a long list here! I often feel like telling people what they shouldn’t do or say creates more barriers in a way because it makes them even more afraid of saying the wrong thing. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago about some of the do’s and don’ts when interacting with a blind or vision impaired person and a lot of people said how helpful it was to learn what is ok to say rather than focusing on what not to say. So I think the main thing to remember is that you shouldn’t be afraid of starting a conversation with a vision-impaired person, you don’t need to change the way you talk or turn up the volume of your voice. We’re all human and I think it’s important to talk to others in the way we’d like to be spoken to.
What do you wish people without vision impairments could know about your experience?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I think it’s important for people to know how isolating it can be. I spent a lot of time on my own in school because people didn’t want to come up to me because it wasn’t ‘cool’ to talk to someone with a disability. It can often feel very isolating when I’m out and about with my cane as well because it almost acts as this barrier between me and the general public, I can sometimes sense people’s stares and I just wish they knew that there’s nothing to be afraid of and that they can come up to talk to me if they want to.
In part three of her interview, Elin talks about the importance of accessibility and how accessible technology helps her navigate the world.
Can you share an earlier memory of struggling to communicate or navigate in the world?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I was lucky that I had a lot of resources and help in school in terms of things to help me complete my work, I learned to touch-type when I was in primary school as well as learning braille in my first language, Welsh, when I was about 8 or 9. So there’s nothing in particular that springs to mind when I try to think about the struggles of accessibility. One thing I would say though was the fact that I’d sometimes feel judged for using a laptop in class or people would laugh when I used a big Perkins brailler which meant that I didn’t want to use them so then I’d strain my eyes trying to see handwriting or I’d miss out on information because of not wanting to use my assistive technology to access it.
Do you use any assistive technology like a screen reader? How does technology help you to navigate the world?
Audio description means we can watch things independently without having to ask for details.
ELIN WILLIAMS: Technology is such a vital part of my life, I absolutely love Apple products and think their built-in screen reader, VoiceOver is one of the best. I use a screen reader on every device I have, VoiceOver as I said on Apple and either ZoomText or SuperNova on Windows. There are apps on my phone such as SeeingAI and Tap Tap See which read documents and describe objects so they’re both extremely helpful as well as maps which can help me to navigate my surroundings. Where would we be without technology, eh?
Have you ever used audio description? If so, do you like it? How do you feel that audio description, in your experience, could improve?
ELIN WILLIAMS: Yes, I have audio description on my TV which means that a lot of the shows I watch are audio described, something I find incredibly helpful. I never realized how much detail I was missing out on before I started using audio description. A lot of Netflix shows and films also have an AD option which is great and it means that I can watch all the shows my friends are watching without missing out on any vital details. I know it’s available in some cinema’s too but it’s not offered on every show in my local one so that could definitely be improved. Overall, although there have been so many improvements. I think it would be great if audio description was offered more widely because it offers so much detail for blind/VI people and it means we can watch things independently without having to ask for details by someone else if they’re watching with us. Something which I can imagine could get a little annoying for them!
When it comes to technology and online accessibility, what are some everyday issues you run into that fully-sighted people might not?
ELIN WILLIAMS: The lack of accessibility online can present a few challenges that fully sighted people wouldn’t necessarily come across. Some websites aren’t accessible with a screen reader which means I have to click off because the user experience would just be shocking, meaning I could miss out on information. Come across photos on social media and blogs can also be a struggle because, although some are improving in terms of adding descriptions, a lot still don’t have any which means I have no idea what’s in a photo and I miss out on information in that sense which is a shame since a lot of people my age seem to appreciate more visual content.
What goes through your mind when you encounter inaccessible websites?
I think it’s always good to keep accessibility at the forefront of your mind.
ELIN WILLIAMS: It completely depends on what kind of day I’m having to be honest and whether or not I have the patience to try to work around it! But most often than not, I’ll try to power through and have a look to see if anything is accessible and if there is a way around it because I’d like to give things a chance but if I can’t make any sense of it, I’ll click off.
Do you have a message for web and technology creators? What should they know about accessibility?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I think it’s always good to keep accessibility at the forefront of your mind. I’ve come across developers who have even tested their site with a screen reader to see how accessible it is in order to find out for themselves what kind of experience a blind or vision impaired person is likely to have when coming across their website. Personally, I think that’s such a great idea.
What needs to change about online accessibility?
ELIN WILLIAMS: I think it’s all about awareness, knowing what’s important in terms of making a site accessible and listening to vision impaired people’s needs when accessibility is concerned. It would be amazing if websites were accessible with a screen reader if they weren’t as cluttered – something which can be hard to navigate for those using magnification software etc. And it would also be great if clothing websites had more detailed descriptions of the items they’re selling, if more people became aware of the importance of photo descriptions on blogs and social media and if apps such as Snapchat and Instagram stories were more accessible because I, along with many other vision-impaired people, miss out on knowing what others our age are up to because of not being able to access these apps with our screen readers. Things are improving but there’s still room for improvement so I hope it’s only a matter of time before things start falling into place.
Faces Behind the Screen would like to thank Elin Williams for participating in our storytelling project. If you’re interested in sharing your story with us, fill out our nomination form.
Faces Behind the Screen is a storytelling project focusing on members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.