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Pioneers of Education: Helen Keller

in Random things of Interest, Bookkeeping: Success Story, Education on March 18, 2014 . 0 Comments.

First deaf-blind person to enroll in a school of higher education and inspiration for disabled people throughout the world.

The daughter of a confederate Captain who fought for the South during the American Civil War, Helen Adams Keller was born on the 27th of June 1880 in Tuscumbria, Alabama in the USA where her parents supported the family with a cotton plantation and her fathers work as editor for a local paper.

The life of young Helen, however, was to change dramatically when, at not even two years old, she fell victim to a virulent disease that would rob her of her sight and hearing for the rest of her life. Plunged into a dark, silent world and cut off from meaningful contact with anyone she loved, the girl grew to become a difficult, tormented child whose fits of screaming and smashing of plates led relatives to believe she should be institutionalised.

Hope came to the Kellers from a curious source. A journal written by the famous British author Charles Dickens chronicled his journies throughout America . Called, perhaps unimaginatively, “American Notes” he recorded his thoughts on the work done with another deaf and blind child, Laura Bridgman, who had overcome her own disabilities to become the first deaf-blind person to be significantly educated in the English Language.

Though a visit to a specialist doctor confirmed that Helen’s condition was permanent, he believed that she could still be taught and so a teacher was sought for the young girl and found in Anne Sullivan, a visually impaired young graduate who had been taught the manual alphabet, from Laura Bridgman, when blind prior to having her sight partially restored through eye surgery.

What would be the start of a 49 year partnership began slowly as Helen resisted and failed to comprehended Anne’s attempts to teach her the name of things by spelling them out against the younger girls hand. All that changed in a moment when Helen, upon reaching her hand under water one day, realized suddenly the meaning of the word being spelt out on her palm. Understanding the concept that things she touched had names, she began to demand the names of other things. A door had been opened and the girl beneath had been reached.

Now that she could be communicated with, Anne Sullivan convinced the Kellers to send their daughter to the Perkins School for the Blind, the same institution that had taught her. The girl displayed a phenomenal ability to learn and was soon able to read and understand the alphabet in raised letters and in Braille, and to operate specially modified typewriters to write both. She became famous, visiting the President of America in the White House and appearing in the papers of the time. But for all of her success she would never learn to speak.

Despite this, her academic success would push her to higher and higher levels, and in the autumn of 1900 she entered Radcliffe College, Massachusetts graduating in 1904 and becoming the first deaf-blind person to both enrol in a higher educational institution and to graduate as Bachelor of Arts.

From overcoming the harsh events of her early years, Helen Keller would go on to further endeavours in the fields of education, politics and literature. Through her drive and determination she pushed back the boundaries imposed on her by what others thought a disabled person should be able to achieve and became an inspiration for millions of individuals suffering from disability, to prove that not even the loss of one’s sight and hearing need be an impediment to doing great things.

Tags: Pioneers, Helen Keller, EducationLast update: September 19, 2017

 


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