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Helen Keller - Deaf and Blind
Helen Kellerís story is an inspiration. Just before her second birthday she was struck with a fever and in just a few days she went from being a normal child on the cusp of learning to speak, to one who was both deaf and blind. The year was 1882 and in that era people with this kind of disabilities were simply locked away. No one knew how to communicate with them and they were perceived as mentally deficient.
However, Helenís parents wanted her at home as part of their family. But by the time she was five her behaviour became uncontrollable. Helenís frustration with the world was shown in tantrums when she kicked and growled like a wild animal. Her family feared she could hurt her younger sibling and herself but there seemed no way to communicate with her.
Over the years Helenís parents had sought help everywhere; she was checked by numerous doctors and physicians around the countryí they talked to every educator who would listen and even contacted inventors like Alexander Graham Bell who invented the hearing aid. No one could do anything for Helen and gave her no hope of living a fruitful life. Finally, after a five year search, one educational institution suggested they had a teacher for Helen. Annie Sullivan, who had trouble with her eyes and knew some of the problems Helen faced, moved into the Keller household
Annie believed Helen should be taught language. Her family thought this was impossible and to some degree undermined Annieís education process. Annie believe that if Helen didnít learn language she would never be able to think and would not be able to be taught. Her behaviour would go unchecked and probably she would end up in an institution. Annie recognised that Helen had a bright mind, but with no way to absorb information nor to communicate with those around her, her mind couldnít develop.
She commenced teaching Helen through sign language carefully spelling words into Helenís hand but it meant nothing to Helen. She repeated these signs without meaning until suddenly a month or so later Helen realised that the shapes and movements in her hands were the names of objects in her life. With this connection made Helen made rapid progress and wanted to learn all day every day. She practised signing with her dolls and dogs, signing into their hands or paws.
Helen learned quickly, grasping language to such a degree that she became fluent in French, German and Latin as well as English. She graduated from College in 1904 at 24 years of age. By this time she had also learned Braille, had learned to write (with the use of a letter board) and could speak, if somewhat difficult to understand. During the rest of her life Helen devoted herself to telling her story in any way she could, on Broadway, in letters, books and other publications. She visited Presidents, university professors, humanitarians and war veterans.
Helen Kellerís story is one of triumph over a double handicap however, without the help of ĎTeacherí she would have remained apart from people. Helen Keller once said ĎBlindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.í
I had the privilege of visiting Helen Kellerís childhood home while I was in Alabama in 2013. Her story is one of courage Ė both from her point of view but also that of her Teacher and family. The two story house is set on acreage surrounded by beautiful gardens. Just navigating the house and grounds without vision required considerably effort on Helenís part. Helen isnít the only person who has overcome these difficulties but I find her story amazing.
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