If you are blind you still have the window of your ears, and if you are deaf you can listen through your eyes. Helen Keller could neither see nor hear. Yet miraculously she found her salvation through language.
Keller was the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, was once on the reading list of most American schools. She earned renown as an activist for women’s suffrage, socialism, and antimilitarism.
Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. A few months from her second birthday, she fell seriously ill. Doctors said it might be scarlet fever or meningitis. The only certain thing about Keller’s illness was it robbed her of both her ears and eyes. She would never see or hear again.
At a young age, Helen was sent to Perkins Institute for the Blind. She was placed in the care of a blind teacher named Anne Sullivan.
One day Anne ran cool water over one of Helen’s hands and made the symbolic motion for water on the other. It was a breakthrough. For the first time in her life, she realized that everything had a name. After that, Keller’s appetite for new words was insatiable.
Under her teacher’s wing, Keller blossomed. Anne taught her to communicate in a unique way by spelling words rhythmically on the palm of her hand.
She eventually learned to ‘hear’ by reading people’s lips with her heightened sense of touch. She also became proficient in braille. She could even enjoy music by feeling the vibrations with her hand.
She graduated from Harvard University and went on to become a world-famous speaker and author of 12 books.
From 1946 to 1957, she visited 35 countries and met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Keller was also a committed socialist and anarchist. She believed in equality and respect for all. She felt her own world of deafness and blindness paled in comparison to the dark injustices of the world outside.
Keller wrote, “My darkness had been filled with the light of intelligence. Meanwhile, the outer day-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness.”
Anne Sullivan died in 1936. Keller was holding the hand of her beloved teacher and companion at the moment of death. It was the end of a beautiful relationship of 49 years. Keller died in 1968 aged 87.
Helen Keller’s legacy is immense. She was a woman who could not hear, but learned to speak. She was a woman who could not see, yet she shared her vision through the miracle of language.