At sea, in a dense fog” was how Helen described her life in her autobiography, The Story of My Life. Helen Adams Keller (1880 – 1968) was a well renowned American author, lecturer, and a political activist. She was born in Tscumbia, Alabama, which is now a museum that hosts an annual “Helen Keller Day” to honor her birthday. Helen was an outspoken person, and she was a strong advocate for causes that she firmly believed in, such as women’s suffrage, socialism, and labor rights. Helen was born as a healthy child, but after a year and a half of her birth, she fell ill with an unknown disease that left her both blind and deaf. Her inability to communicate with others caused her to slowly become wild and unruly as she grew into childhood. Regardless of her disabilities, Helen grew into one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians and co-founder of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Helen had a difficult childhood because of her disabilities, but turned it around. She met characters that changed her life, excelled in her education in spite of her disability, and had an accomplished career and a political print, which makes her life an immensely inspiring and motivating story.
Meeting her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was a turning point in Helen Keller’s life. Anne arrived at the Kellers’ in 1887, she was 14 years older than Helen, and she had also experienced vision problems, but underwent many operations that partially restored her sight. Anne believed that the only way to reach Helen was by teaching her obedience and love. She asked Helen’s parents’ for permission, and within a week of her arrival, she moved with her into a near by cottage, so that Helen would only focus on her education. Anne started with teaching Helen by manually signing the words into the palm of her hand, and to create the link, she usually made her feel out the objects. For example, to teach Helen the word water, Anne took her out to the water pump, let her feel the gushing cool substance, and she spelled W-A-T-E-R onto her hand. Following that breakthrough, Helen started touching objects, and demanding their letters with an open hand. Anne was not only Helen’s teacher, but she also continued to be her companion in her educational journey and life, until she passed away in 1936.
Helen did not halt her educational journey with what she received from Anne, and she pursued formal education. During 1888, she enrolled in the Perkins Institute for the Blind, and six years later she moved to New York with Anne to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. In 1900, Helen was granted admittance to Radcliffe College of Harvard University, and she graduated at the age of 24 as the first blind-deaf person to acquire a Bachelor of Arts degree. Furthermore, to enhance her communication abilities, Helen learned to speak and gave a number of speeches about phases of her life, and she also learned to hear people by touch-reading their lips with her hands, and became an expert at reading signs and using braille. Her education equipped her with the necessary knowledge to start her writing and political careers.
Helen started her writing career, even before she graduated from Radcliffe College, by publishing two books, “The story of my life” in 1902 and “Optimism” in 1903. Her autobiography was translated into 50 languages. She wrote a total of 12 books, and her archives contain over 475 speeches and essays with subjects such as blindness prevention, atomic energy, and faith. To prepare her manuscripts, Helen used a braille typewriter and later copied them on a regular one. In addition to being a world known author and lecturer, she was recognized as supporter for people with disabilities and other causes. In 1915, she founded the HKI Organization (Helen Keller International), with the assistance of George A. Kessler, which was mainly for researching vision, nutrition, and health. In many of her speeches she called for women’s right to vote in public elections, supported birth control, and was against violence and wars. Also in 1920, she assisted in founding the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-profit organization that “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country”. She was truly a selfless woman, who cared about every aspect of life.
All in all, Helen Keller was and still is an inspiration for people, and she spread hope and motivation with her life journey and story. Even though she had a difficult upbringing, and not one but two disabilities, she was still able to achieve a lot more than most people do. She had many accomplishments that included her pursuit for quality education, a prominent writing career, and her participation in political efforts and causes. Helen was proof to one of her own sayings, when she said “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us”. She never missed her opportunities at a better life, and so should we.