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Helen Keller: A Disability Activist and a Pioneer for Equal Rights

June 24th, 2013 Inspirational

When times get tough, you should turn to stories of people who had to overcome tremendous adversity to help put your own problems into perspective. For example, while you may have learned about Helen Keller in school, chances are you may have forgotten many of the things you were told years ago. If so, you should learn more about this important historical icon who has served as an inspiration for many people across the globe. 

Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Ala. At the age of 18 months, she contracted an illness that left her blind, deaf and unable to speak. Before her illness, Keller was an extraordinary child, according to Biography. She had begun speaking by 6 months old and was walking by the age of 1. To this day, experts are unsure of what caused Keller to lose her sight and hearing, though the common belief is that it may have been Scarlett fever or meningitis. 

Fight to succeed
Being unable to express herself with words left Keller understandably frustrated. During those early years following her illness, she would kick and scream when she was angry and giggle uncontrollably when happy, making her difficult to control. Many people urged her family to put her into an institution, but they searched for alternatives. In 1886, Keller's mother began to take her to see a number of experts who claimed they could help her. After visiting many prominent figures in the healthcare community, the family was directed to Annie Sullivan, who had recently received her degree to work with people who were blind. 

Sullivan refused to give up on Keller and eventually found a way to teach her to associate words with objects. In a now famous lesson, Sullivan ran Keller's hands under a water pump and signed the letters to spell out water in her hand, leading to Keller finally understanding how she could communicate. 

After that, there was no stopping Keller. She began speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in 1890 and eventually learned to speak so that others could understand her. She was determined to go to college and eventually attended Radcliff College after befriending the writer Mark Twain, who introduced her to Henry Rogers who paid for Keller's tuition because he admired her spirit. 

Keller went on to graduate at age 24 and became a well-know activist and lecturer. She spent the rest of her life fighting for the rights of people with disabilities as well as playing a major role in the women's suffrage movement. She even helped found the American Civil Liberties Union in 1890. 

Continuing her legacy
According to the American Foundation for the Blind, Keller continues to be an inspiration long after her death in 1968. The foundation stresses that Keller was more than just that little blind girl at the water pump, but a warrior who was determined to fight for equal rights for all individuals. 

The foundation published a letter Keller wrote to the Student Body of Germany in 1933 after Nazi youth burned copies of her book. 

"History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them. You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books to the soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people," wrote Keller.