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Helen Adams Keller - Vision and Hearing Impaired


Updated November 01, 2012

Helen Adams Keller - Vision and Hearing Impaired

Helen Keller

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Deaf and Blind

Helen Adams Keller:

Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880. She was not born blind and deaf; she became blind and deaf around the age of 18 months after a brief illness accompanied by a high fever.

By the time Helen was seven years of age, she had become difficult for the family to control. Helen’s parents were frustrated with her frequent tantrums, and other family members thought she should be institutionalized. Her mother wanted to get her help, as she knew her child was intelligent. Helen had created a primitive form of sign language with the daughter of the family’s cook. Her mother read an article written by Charles Dickens, American Notes, which described how another child in a similar situation had become successfully educated.

The family took Helen to see a specialist, Dr. J. Julian Chisolm in Baltimore, Maryland. The doctor suggested that they see Alexander Graham Bell, who was known for his work with deaf individuals. Mr. Bell, in turn, suggested that they visit the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. The director of the school introduced the family to a recent graduate, Anne Sullivan, who would become Helen’s teacher and lifelong friend.

Helen’s life, after learning sign language, became an eventful one. She graduated from Radcliff College in 1904 at the age of 24. She was the first deaf and blind individual to graduate from a college in the United States. Prior to graduation she penned the book, The Story of My Life, which became the basis for the movie, The Miracle Worker.

After Helen graduated from college, Anne married John Macy, an instructor at Harvard and prominent socialist. Helen also joined the Socialist Party. As the story about her remarkable life spread, she began to speak out against discrimination of the blind and to be an advocate for women’s issues. In 1915, along with George Kessler, she co-founded Helen Keller International. In 1920, she also helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union.

Anne Sullivan died in 1936, with Helen holding her hand. Polly Thompson, who had worked as Helen and Anne’s secretary since 1914, took over as her companion. When Thompson suffered a stroke in 1957, Winnie Corbally, her nurse, took over as Helen’s companion. Ms. Corbally cared for Helen until her death.

Helen continued to speak out for the blind and less fortunate for the rest of her life, which ended in her sleep in Connecticut in 1968. She worked tirelessly as an advocate, touring many countries to speak about her experiences. During her life she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1936 from President Theodore Roosevelt, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1965.

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