“The public must learn that the blind man is neither genius nor a freak nor an idiot. He has a mind that can be educated. It is the duty of the public to help him make the best of himself.”
These words by Helen Keller echo the fact that disability need not be the end of the world. But one can overcome all hurdles through one’s spirit.
Born on 27 June 1880 in Tuscumbia, USA, daughter of captain Arthur Henley Keller and Kate Adams Keller, she was born with full sight and hearing. They were leading a quiet life. But this was soon going to be short lived. In February 1882, when Helen was nineteen months’ old, she fell ill. To this day the nature of her ailment remains a mystery. The doctors of that time called it ‘brain fever’, while today’s doctors think it may have been scarlet fever or meningitis. Whatever the illness, Helen was, for many days expected to die. When, eventually, the fever subsided, Helen’s family believed that their daughter was well again.
However, Helen’s mother soon noticed that her daughter was failing to respond when the dinner bell rang or when she passed her hand in front of her daughter’s eyes. Helen became a very difficult child, smashing dishes, lamps and terrorising the whole household with her screaming and temper-antrums. Relatives regarded her as a monster and said that she should be put into an institution. By the time Helen was six, her family had become desperate. Looking after Helen was proving too much for them. So her mother traveled to a specialist doctor for advice. They were given confirmation that Helen could never see or hear again. But the doctor believed that Helen could be taught and he advised them to visit a local expert on the problems of dumb children. This expert was Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of telephone.
Bell suggested that the Kellers write to Michael Anagmos, director of the Perkins Institution and Massachuetts Asylum for the Blind, and request him for another teacher. He considered Helen’s case and immediately recommended a former pupil of the institution, Anne Sullivan. On 3 March 1887, Anne met Helen Keller for the first time. Anne immediately started teaching Helen to finger spell. Spelling out the word “Doll” to signify a present she had brought with her for Helen. The next word she taught Helen was “Cake” Although Helen could repeat these finger movements she could not quite understand what they meant.
Anne and Helen then moved into a small cottage on the mainland house to try and get Helen to improve her behavior of particular concern were Helen’s table manners. She had taken to eating with her hands and from the plates of everyone on the table. Over the coming weeks, however, Helen’s behavior did begin to improve as a bond grew between the two. Then, after a month of Anne’s teaching, what the people of the time called, a “miracle” occurred. Helen had until now not yet fully understood the meaning of words. When Anne led her to the water pump on 5 April 1887, a drastic change occurred. As the cool stream gushed into Helen’s one hand, Anne slowly spelled the word ‘water’ on Helen’s hand. Helen suddenly, felt that the mystery of the language was revealed to her. Within the next few hours, Helen learnt the spelling of thirty new words.
Helen’s progress from then on was astonishing. Her ability to leam was far in advance of anything that anybody had seen before in someone without sight or hearing. Soon, she could write with both ordinary and braille typewriters. Helen had now become a phenomenon to reckon with. Her next achievement which brought her laurels from all over the world was when she moved to the Cambridge School for young ladies in 1896 and in the Autumn of 1900 entered the Radcliffe college, becoming the first deaf and blind person to have ever enrolled at an institution of higher learning. In 1904, Helen graduated from the college, becoming the first deaf-blind person to have a Bachelor’s degree.
During this time, Helen also started working on her first book “The Story of My life”, which later became a classic. After this success, Helen and Anne went on lecture tours throughout the world speaking on their experiences. In October 1961, Helen suffered the first of a series of strokes, and her public life was to drawn to a close. On June 1, 1968 at Arcon Ridge, Helen Keller died peacefully in her sleep.
Today; Helen’s final resting place is a popular tourist attraction. Her life has inspired many. In 1962, the play “The Miracle Worker” was made into a film and was a phenomenal success. More recently in India, the film ‘Black’ was made on her life. Her achievements and admiration prompt us to ask the question what else could somebody desire from life?