Life is either a great adventure or nothing.
Helen Keller was born in Alabama in 1880 to a wealthy and privileged family. She was born with fully functioning sight and vision, but became ill aged 19 months with what was then known as “brain fever”, which was probably meningitis or scarlet fever. This left her blind and deaf. From then on, she was very limited in her communication with her immediate family, apart from a few essential words through a special form of sign language. By the age of six or seven, she had found ways to cope with her disabilities. For example, she could tell the sex or age group of a person through the strength and speed of the vibrations their footsteps made, as her sense of touch and feeling became more and more fine tuned.
After much research and seeking advice, Helen’s parents discovered the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The head teacher assigned 20 year old Anne Sullivan to the family as Helen’s live-in instructor and mentor. With impaired hearing herself, Sullivan began the slow and painstaking process of teaching Helen how to communicate using a special kind of sign language that involves touch. She began with the word “doll”, referring to a gift Anne had brought her. Helen quickly grew frustrated, as she did not yet understand that every object has a word assigned to identify it. It took a month for her to understand this. For example, Sullivan would run cool water over Helen's hand while spelling out the word “water”.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.
Many people thought that because of her profound disabilities, Helen led a very isolated and sad life. But this was not at all true, as she was deeply connected to the outside world through her remaining senses of touch, smell and taste.
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
After a lot of hard work, Helen began to attend Perkins Institute for the Blind. In 1894, herself and Sullivan moved to New York for Helen to attend the Wright Humeson school for the deaf. She was eventually admitted into Radcliffe College. Throughout her education, she developed a great literary talent and love of writing. In 1904, she made history by becoming the first deaf and blind person ever to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Determined to communicate as conventionally as possible, Keller learned to speak, and gave many lectures and speeches throughout her life. She learned to lip read by touching people's lips as they spoke. Due to her highly developed and subtle sense of touch, she was able to do this with ease. She also became highly skilled in Braille.
Soon, Helen Keller became renowned the world over, as a speaker, author and political activist. She was a strong and effective advocate for the disabled, and many ways were made for disabled people to be successful because of her own inspiring and groundbreaking progress. She travelled to 25 countries to speak about the issues faced by the deaf and hearing impaired. She was a passionate, determined and outspoken activist in areas including women's suffrage, pacifism, and other issues. All the while, Anne Sullivan was her committed companion, and would remain so until she died with Helen by her side.
Keller was admired by many famous figures, including Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Alexander Graham Bell. Throughout her life and career, she had 12 books published, including a series of autobiographies, as well as many articles. In later life, she was a prolific fundraiser for a number of charities, but especially the American Foundation for the Blind.
Helen Keller was considered to be voiceless and at a disadvantage because of her disabilities. Yet it was these setbacks that became the source of her success, and inspiration and change for millions of people around the world. However, it took years of patience and hard work for her to reach the success that she did. But her passion and determination saw her through, along with a number of very special relationships with highly supportive people, particularly Anne Sullivan.
What issues do you face that could potentially be a disadvantage? How can you turn them around so that what you think is holding you back could be the very thing that launches you into success?