“It is not blindness or deafness that have brought me the darkest hours – it is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally. How much more good I could have done if I have acquired normal speech. But after this dark experience, I understand fully human strivings towards ambitions and infinite capacity of hope.”
Born with imparities
Imagine your 18-months old baby get diagnosed with deafness and blindness altogether, and you lived in 1880. What could lead to a disastrous and tragic story completely shifted its course to become a true legend in the human rights movement. Helen Keller, born in Alabama to a higher middle-class family, is a true wonder – she pulled Life by its strings against all odds.
It did not happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy – read on her unbelievable rising to a motivational talker and writer of 19 published books. A wonder woman of human imperfections, but god-like soul. The truth is, after that, we don’t have any excuse to procrastinate fulfilling our dreams now, do we?
Fast forward through her mute childhood when the only way her family could understand her was about 60 signs she’d give them. Helen is only seven years old when she met Anne Sullivan – herself visually impaired,hired to become the girl’s instructor. In her autobiography “The story of my life”, Helen describes this day as her “soul`s birthday”. Only then she learned that every object has a word, and what was a frustrating process at the beginning, a month later, led to a breakthrough in her communication.
Anne was running cold water on one of her palms and drawing word by word “w-a-t-e-r” over the other hand. “I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as something is forgotten — a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!”
Raising to speak
Helen and Anne became inseparable, moving to New York for the girl to attend Wright-Humason School for the Deaf – although perceived as an isolated person, the girl was very in touch with the outside world. Her other senses helped her – she was able to feel the beat of the music and feel the touch of animals. Her strong will and hunger for knowledge and communication made her the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
She gained a lot of respect and goodwill throughout her formal education – Mark Twain was her admirer, and the Austrian pedagogue Wilhelm Jerusalem was the first to discover her literary talent. From then on nothing could stop Helen to become the voice of truth and human potential.
The Tadoma method - “I am not dumb now”
Another way of communicating with the outside world was through her companion Anne Sullivan and the Tadoma method. Anne describes the process:
“When I first saw Helen Keller, she was six years and eight months old. She had observed that we did not use the hands when we were talking to each other. And I let her see by putting her hand on my face how we talked with our mouths. She felt the vibrations of the spoken word. Instantly she spelled “I want to talk with my mouth”.
That seemed impossible. But after experimenting for a time we found that by placing her hand in this position- the thumb resting on the throat, right at the larynx, first finger on the lips, the second on the nose, we found that she could feel the vibration of spoken words.
For instance, on the throat, she feels the “G” the hard “G”. And the “K” sound. On the lips, she feels the “B” and the “P”. With the second finger on the nose the nasal sound. The “N”.The first word she learned to articulate was the little word “it”. With the hand in this position, I made the vowel “I”. She felt it. Then I made the “T”. She feels it with the fingers on my lips. Then I put the two letters together to form the word “it”. The first word was learned. After seven lessons, she spoke the sentence word by word …” I am not dumb now“.
The World was her oyster
With Anne by her side and after graduating college Helen became a social activist. She became America’s first Goodwill Ambassador to Japan after WW1. She travelled to more than 35 countries to advocate for people with disabilities and support causes like birth control, pacifism, radical socialism, and suffragism.
Imagine what an impact a deaf-blind person must have over her audience when she starts speaking about the world’s injustice with a chin up. The influence she had spread over famous figures – her genioisity made her a close friend to Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain
Helen attended speech therapy to have her voice better heard by the public. Her work was mainly focused on women’s rights to vote and socialists campaigns supporting the working class. When the Rockefeller-owned press refused to print her articles, she protested until her work was finally published.
Her activism was never an end to itself – Helen found out that blindness is not only a missfortune beyond human control. With eyes wide shut and piercing attention to the surrounding world she figures out that often people are pushed to extremities due to hard work conditions or inequality. That realization fueled her tireless activist career.
However, love and empathy were always her chosen path: “Since God’s Life cannot be less in one being than another, or His Love manifested less fully in one thing than another, His Providence must needs be universal … He has provided religion of some kind everywhere, and it does not matter to what race or creed anyone belongs if he is faithful to his ideals of right living.”
Now close your eyes and put your fingers on your larynx, lips and nose. Repeat slowly “H-A-V-E F-A-I-T-H”.