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Helen Keller - Making a Difference Despite Challenges


Helen Keller is one of my favorite people of all time. Despite tremendous challenges in her life, at a time when few resources were available, she left a legacy that will never be forgotten.


Helen was not born blind and deaf; it was not until she was 19 months old that she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind.

In 1886, her mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickenss' American Notesof the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman, dispatched young Helen, accompanied by her father, to seek out Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. He subsequently put them in touch with Alexander Graham Bell, a Canadian, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised the couple to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blindd, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Bostonn. Michael Anaganos, the school's director, asked former student Anne Sullivann, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship, Sullivan evolving into governess and then eventual companion.



Above: Helen with Alexander Graham Bell


Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller's house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d-o-l-l" for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. In fact, when Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for "mug", Keller became so frustrated she broke the doll. Keller's big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of "water"; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.



Above: Helen with Mark Twain


Due to a protruding left eye, Keller was usually photographed in profile. Both her eyes were replaced in adulthood with glass replicas for "medical and cosmetic reasons".

Anne Sullivan died in 1936 after a coma, with Helen Keller holding her hand.

When Keller was young, Anne Sullivan introduced her to Phillips Brooks, who introduced her to Christianity, Keller famously saying: "I always knew He was there, but I didn't know His name!"



Above: With President Eisenhowser


"I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God" Helen Keller



Above: Reading to blind students

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