Enabling Technology


Touching The Rock by John M. Hull

This book is about John Hull and his experience with blindness. It is different from other autobiographical books I’ve read in that it is not about triumph. He did not struggle through his adversity to become a world renowned leader in something not typically done by blind people. He is a regular guy; he has a wife and some kids, a good job as a college lecturer, and just happens to be blind. This is a collection of his thought and dreams, the everyday experience of being blind, and the everyday challenges and insights they provides. I found this book to be more like a blog; random thoughts and regular experiences.

Before The Blindness

John was born April 1935 in North Eastern Victoria, Australia. His father was a Methodist minister, his mother a homemaker. His siblings are his older sister Alison, younger brother Keith, and younger sister Janice. John had bad health from an early age, missing school because of asthma and eczema. His first recollection of his cataracts and detached retina (that would later lead to his blindness) was when he was around thirteen years old. After several years and cycles of losing vision with follow-up corrective surgery, he lost all sight in his left eye around age 17. Around this same time he went to school for Religious Education studies, leading him to London, Cambridge and Melbourne. In 1973 his daughter Imogen was born, but in 1979 he and his first wife divorced. Later that year he remarried to a woman named Marilyn, and right around the same time their first child was born (Thomas), he was registered blind.

The Early Years and The Dreams

John did not become completely blind until later on, and the book skips the three years immediately after the initial registration of blindness happens. It picks up in 1983. At the time he is still getting acclimated to his loss of vision. When he is still getting used to his entire world changing, he seems to be extra astute at picking up the significance of vision in our culture. Simple greetings and conversation pieces like ‘nice day’ and ‘nice to see you’ have visual implications. Is it really a nice day if the weather is mild but the sky is grey? John can feel the mild weather but at that time couldn’t tell when the sun was shining. His dreams seem to imply an embarrassment and loss of ability from being blind. He often dreams of ships and being at sea; the ocean of blindness that consumes him, isolating and separating him from loved ones or pulling those loved ones down with him.

The Kids

One of the things I liked best about the book and John was the insight it provided about his relationship with his kids. The kids are each in distinct, separate categories, Imogen (born well before he was blind), Thomas (born just as he went blind), Lizzie (born during the adjustment phase) and Gabriel (born after he had adjusted to his blindness). The relationship with Thomas and Lizzie were interesting. When Thomas was young, they would sometimes play in the dark because John would forget to turn on the lights. John thinks that Thomas didn’t say anything because of the child-parent relationship at that age: the parent has special abilities the child doesn’t. If ad could lift and reach things Thomas couldn’t, perhaps Thomas thought his Dad could see in the dark, and when he got older then he too would have this special ability like his Dad to lift up things and reach high up things and see in the dark. John did a pretty good job being involved in their play games, helping them learn to read, pushing some of the responsibility of safe playing and fun learning onto the kids without them knowing it. I liked how John handled the inquisitive questions from his kids as they got older; they probed to learn what blindness was, to learn that Dad was blind, to learn what he could or could not do, the permanence of being blind, etc. At first he didn’t want to admit to Thomas he was blind, but eventually he did. One story I liked was when Thomas was old enough to know his Dad couldn’t see but Lizzie didn’t. John told her to put something in the trash. With kids Lizzie’s age you have to tell them which trash can to put trash in. She asked “this one here”, and Thomas knew to bring the trash can to his Dad so John could physically touch it and say “yes, in here”. As he was forced to explain his condition to his kids, they all grew in knowledge of his condition.


One of the other recurring themes is the role and influence of religion on blindness. Should John accept his blindness? Is it a gift or a curse? Over the course of several days in 1984 he broke down several Bible verses, trying to decipher their meaning to blindness, even whether or not the author was blind. He struggled to learn the implications of the archetype of God being the light (God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all – I John 1.5). John says that “Light gives detail, drives away uncertainty, allows discrimination, dissolves ambiguity, and gives a particular place and context”. But the “archetype of blindness represents the power to obliterate the distinction between that which is known and that which is not known”. During the episode described above, where he and Thomas were playing in a dark room and Thomas said “Thomas needs the light. Daddy doesn’t need the light”, John thought of the true archetype for God, that is neither light nor dark but rather encompasses both, “Darkness and light are both alike to thee – Psalm 139 verse 12”. It’s interesting that throughout the book he struggles with the idea of accepting his blindness as a gift, especially with his extensive religious training background.

Work and Depression

Early on John suffered through depression, sometimes because he felt overwhelmed by the whole experience. At first there is no distinction between night and day. It was always dark. Sometimes John would physically get tired. This happened mainly in social settings or while interacting with the kids. At work things were different; there was an order and place for everything. The free flowing nature of kids and their apparent disdain for structure led to a new world. At work he was in control; he set the schedule, people came to him in his office for a specific purpose. Even though the amount and way he did work was limited, he learned to structure it to his advantage. At home it seemed like chaos until the kids were in the getting ready for bed routine. He observed how as a non-sighted person, he could not be rushed. Everything had to have a specific route or routine. It takes X steps and Y minutes to get from point A to point B. Walk too fast or too slow and he could miss the audio clues about his location and destination. It also meant new experiences. Things would come and go out of existence in an instant. If he could not feel or hear it, it did not exist. It also meant intrusion. Hearing is always active and simultaneously passive. You do not stop hearing. Instead things stop making noise. You can not close your ears like you close your eyes, or change where your ears listen to change what you hear like you do with your eyes to change what you see. As someone who had crossed from the land of the sighted to the land of the non-sighted, the social ramifications of this new world and it’s constant intrusiveness led to many interesting stories.


This book is pretty good. It goes into the power and powerlessness of blindness. It also shows the growth of him and his family from September 1983 to August 1986. Lots of things happen; he visits his parents in Australia and is saddened that he can no longer see the sights of Melbourne. He learns how to use his whole body to see, rather than just his eyes as he did before 1980. Most important, it shows that he is just a regular guy with a regular life, with all the regular ups and downs of work, home, religion, friends and family.