Maud Rowell | 'I want to tell people what it’s like to have this disability'

Maud Rowell | 'I want to tell people what it’s like to have this disability'

"I want to tell people what it’s like to have this disability. I want to change their minds, in terms of how they think about disability more generally, because I think we internalise a lot of negativities about it.”

In Blind Spot: An Exploration and Education on Blindness, début author Maud Rowell takes the reader on a journey through blindness in history, and discusses society’s often callous approach to it. It tells Rowell’s story of losing her sight at a pivotal time in her life, as well as the stories of other blind people. “I was trying to envisage who my reader was,” says Rowell. “I was hoping it would be kind of anyone—a blind person could read it, someone losing their sight could read it, a sighted person could read it. Ultimately, I wanted people not to feel scared that that could happen to them.”

Rowell was 19 when she lost her sight. “I went straight to university. I then did a Masters. I felt like I didn’t really have time to get to grips with my identity as a blind person. I didn’t know anyone else who was blind, pretty much.”

Rowell struggled with the changes at first, but writing and researching Blind Spot—discovering inspirational and forgotten-to-history blind people—was cathartic. “We haven’t bothered to preserve the history of these people, which I think is really dangerous. It really shapes how we think about blind people today...We don’t have these historical role models to look back on and contextualise things for us.”

She feels very grateful to the people who shared their stories with her. They not only informed her book, but also let her know that there are other people that share her experience. “My interviewees were just amazing people, and they said such important things. It’s been a tiny bit stressful... I feel a duty of care to the people I’ve spoken to, and I really want to represent their stories true to how they want them to be conveyed.”

On technology she uses in everyday life, Rowell says her phone is probably the main thing. She uses Otter.ai, a very accurate transcription service, and has found the boom of audiobooks helpful. Another device she uses is the OrCam MyEye, a wearable device that enables blind people to read text and identify faces and products. Rowell loves it. “Amazing as that technology is, it only reads in one language. So if I wanted to read a book in Japanese, I’d have to buy a whole separate OrCam, and they cost like £3,000. So yeah... that’s another problem. It’s almost like assuming blind people will have really limited intellectual curiosity—like, because you’re blind, you don’t want to learn more than you know.”

While it shouldn’t be the work of those affected by an issue to divvy out education to those ignorant of it, Rowell has the grace to be that educator while also uplifting herself. In Blind Spot, she does so expertly.

Blind Spot will be released in the UK on 28th October 2021 by 404 Ink, priced at £7.50.