Ahead of the UN International Day of Disabled Persons on Saturday 3rd December, award-winning disability advocate Elin Williams, the creator of My Blurred World blog, has discussed how she created an online community after struggling to find relatable stories of other young people growing up with an impairment or health condition.
“I hadn’t met anyone else who was vision impaired before I started my blog. When I was able to build a bond with these people, it was eye-opening. I finally realised that I wasn’t alone.”
Award-winning disability advocate, Elin Williams, has opened up about how she used her passion for writing to find success in her professional and personal life.
Having been diagnosed with severe sight loss and chronic fatigue syndrome as a teenager, Elin turned to the internet to find relatable stories of other young people growing up with an impairment or health condition that would make her feel less alone by offering support or guidance.
After realising that these personal stories and perspectives didn’t exist, Elin drew upon her talent for writing to launch her award-winning blog, My Blurred World, when she was just 16 years old.
Elin said: “I first started experiencing symptoms of sight loss when I was three years old. I was so young and didn’t understand that wasn’t how other people saw the world too. It wasn’t until I was about eight years old that I began to actually grasp that my eyesight wasn’t as good as other people’s. I remember tripping over a lot and walking into things.
“I had mobility lessons and started using a white cane – which I was not a fan of. I saw it as something that made me different to other people and a symbol of my impairment. The thought of other people seeing me as ‘different’ really affected my self-esteem.
“Unfortunately, I experienced a lot of bullying in primary school. It was tough to try to fit into a world which I didn’t feel I belonged in at the time.”
Despite this, Elin embraced the support available to her at school, accessing a wide range of help that enabled her to continue with her studies.
“I was introduced to a qualified teacher of vision impairment (QTVI). They came into the school soon after my diagnosis to see what support could be put in place to help make my school life as easy as it could be.
“My work was adapted to large print and audio formats, and I learnt braille and touch typing. These were just some of the changes to my school life which lessened the impact of my vision impairment.”
Elin faced another obstacle in her teenage years, as she began experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue, light-headedness, fainting, brain fog, and noise sensitivity at the age of 13. This eventually led to a formal diagnosis of ME (Myalgic encephalomyelitis), also called chronic fatigue syndrome, some years later – a variable condition that affects around 250,000 people in the UK.
Elin added: “It really affected my school life at the time. I had to stay home a lot and missed out on almost half of my first year of sixth form because of it. My ME is something that still has a big impact on my life today – and l must find the right balance in terms of how much I take on.”
Throughout these childhood challenges, Elin gradually discovered her passion for writing which laid the foundations for creating her blog, My Blurred World at the age of 16.
“Writing has always been a huge love of mine and a constant in my life. I’m better at expressing my emotions through writing rather than talking.
“I used to write short stories at primary school and my teachers would read them out to the class. It gave me a massive boost of self-belief to have found something I was talented at and enjoyed.
“After I was registered as severely sight impaired at 12 years old, I turned to the internet in search of similar stories to my own to feel less alone in what I was experiencing. There were lots of statistics and medical perspectives – but nothing from the personal perspective of other vision impaired people.
“As I explored the concept of blogs and developed my writing skills, I knew I could use my personal experiences to fill this gap and create the platform that I was so desperately looking for. So, I started My Blurred World to help other vision impaired people like myself.
“It was then noticed by charities, which helped me connect with other vision impaired people in similar situations. I hadn’t met anyone else who was vision impaired before I started my blog. When I was able to build a bond with these people, it was eye-opening. I finally realised that I wasn’t alone.
“It was empowering, and it pushed me to keep writing and keep being open and honest about my experiences. People reacted and related to it, which was motivational.”
My Blurred World has since gone on to become an award-winning lifestyle blog with thousands of regular readers as far as Australia. Elin has also asserted herself as a leading disability advocate – being named one of the most influential disabled people in the UK and featuring on the BBC 100 Women list in 2020.
“I enjoy knowing that people can relate to what I’m sharing and that they have similar experiences in terms of their personal vision impairment journey. I’ve had many people contact me to say they hadn’t come across anyone who had spoken so openly about that subject before. It’s special to know that we could relate to each other in that way. The response makes it all worth it.
“That feedback is what I’ve always loved the most about sharing my experiences. It can be quite scary to put myself out there in such a vulnerable way, but I’ve continued to be open about different topics over the years. One of the things I like to shine a light on is accessible concerts, fashion and beauty – to interlink all of my interests on this platform that I now have.”
Discussing the advice she would give her younger self, Elin said: “I’d say you’re not alone. A big part of my lack of confidence at the time was the fact I thought I was the only one. I didn’t understand that there were so many other vision impaired people out there feeling and experiencing similar things to me.
“I’d also tell my younger self to never let other people’s opinions stop me from going out there and being proud of who I was. Embrace things like mobility aids and use them with confidence.”
On International Day of Disabled Persons – a United Nations awareness day which aims to promote the rights and well-being of people with impairments in all spheres of society – Elin wants to encourage other disabled people in Wales to take advantage of support available to them.
“Our interests are what ground us and help us to find a light in the darkest moments. Writing helped me through the toughest moments of my life. Being able to express myself in this way was something I always came back to. I never thought it could be my career or lead to what I am doing now.
“The unexpected can turn into something amazing, and if you follow your passions, it can lead you to where you’re meant to be. That’s why I’m supporting ReAct+ because of how important it is for everyone in Wales to be given the opportunity and personalised support to help them find a job they’ll love.
“For a lot of disabled people, it can be easy to think there are less options available for them – which shouldn’t be the case. I want to challenge these misconceptions, and hopefully help to inspire others to achieve their career goals.”
ReAct+ supports those who are out of work or under a notice of redundancy by providing them with a free personalised package of employment support that could include advice, training, or funding.
Individuals facing additional barriers to employment or training may be eligible for a Personal Development Support Grant of up to £500, alongside one to one mentoring and coaching.
Employers can receive up to £3,000 to help cover a new recruits wage for the first 12 months, plus up to £1,000 for any job-related skills training needed to bring them up to speed. An additional £1,000 is available to employers who recruit a disabled person or a young person who is not in education, employment or training.
For employment support as unique as you, visit workingwales.gov.wales/react-plus or call 0800 028 4844.