The year is 1904. Having learned to “hear” people’s speech by reading their lips with her hand and distinguish people by the vibration of their footsteps, a pioneering young woman from Alabama in the USA is the first-ever deaf and blind person to earn a college degree, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. Her name is Helen Keller.
Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880. She would go on to become a well-known American author, political activist, and lecturer, known for her work as an advocate for people with disabilities. Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles.
Fast forward 115 years from her graduation and this remarkable lady’s life and work continues to inspire disabled people the world over. In 1999 Keller was listed in Gallup’s Most Widely Admired People of the 20th century.
Keller travelled far and wide in her work as advocate for the disabled. She met with government leaders, prime ministers and presidents to advocate for the blind, deaf and disabled. She also met with many organisations that helped the blind, lectured at medical schools and paid visits to schools for the disabled.
During her life, Keller formed a friendship with American humourist, novelist, and travel writer, Mark Twain. They met when she was 14 and shared a close friendship until his death 16 years later. Keller was perhaps most deeply inspired by her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and they remained close for 49 years. In 1936, Anne went into a coma and Helen was there with her, holding her hand right up until the end.
Here are three of my favourite quotes from this remarkable woman.
Keller spends time in her memoir talking about her love of reading and mentions her favourite books. We can see that her thirst for knowledge helped her overcome adversity. In acquiring knowledge, she empowered herself to grow and to achieve, despite her disabilities.
Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, truly changed her life. Despite the physical strain from her own limited sight, Sullivan spelled out the contents of class lectures into Keller’s hand. She spent hours conveying information from textbooks to her. This reminds us that we can inspire others by using skills learned from having overcome our own adversaries.
In a world where we rely on our five senses to explain what is going on around us, Keller’s life experience also reminds us that our imagination is the most powerful tool for making breakthrough discoveries and creating positive change.
Keller’s life and work are a reminder that out of adversity, we can still make significant achievements. And that faith, determination, and spirit can help us all accomplish far more than we ever hoped for. Most importantly, her work reminds us not to let our physical challenges stand in the way of accomplishing our dreams and achieving our potential.
For a few more facts on Helen: https://www.hki.org/helen-kellers-life-and-legacy#.XUKpgI5KhhE