Stars and their eyes: Helen Keller

On 27 June we celebrate the memory of Helen Keller. Blind and deaf, she defeated overwhelming odds to become an internationally recognised author and lecturer dedicating her life to helping others.

Born 27 June 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Keller lost her sight and hearing at 19 months after a fever, thought to be scarlet fever or meningitis. Five years later, Keller’s parents hired teacher Anne Sullivan, also visually impaired after contracting trachoma at age 5, from the Boston Perkins Institute for the Blind - a decision that would be life changing for Keller.

Sullivan taught Keller the concept of language, spelling the names of objects in her immediate surroundings by writing them on her hand, before teaching her to read Braille, use hand signals and to speak by letting her feel the vibration of her throat and lip movements with her fingers. With Sullivan as her teacher and companion, Keller became the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree (with distinction).

Keller’s accomplishments in overcoming her disabilities made her a celebrity at a young age. During her junior years at Radcliffe College, she wrote her first book, The Story of My Life, still in print and translated into over 50 languages. Keller published extensively throughout her life, including numerous articles on the prevention of blindness and the education and special problems of the blind.

In 1924, Keller joined the newly formed American Foundation for the Blind as an adviser and fund-raiser. Leading the organisation for 40 years, she secured the support of many high-profile individuals, including Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller.

Keller continued her relentless work to alter the world’s perception of the blind-deaf and was widely recognised for her efforts. In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson and to this day, she remains a symbol of courage and triumph over adversity.

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