One can’t speak of achievement among deaf and hard-of-hearing women without talking about Helen Keller. Her story’s popularity made her an icon like no one before her. As someone with three disabilities, she not only served as an example of what one can accomplish as a woman but also what the human spirit can do in the face of challenge.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
~ Helen Keller
A Difficult Education
Keller is most famous for her work with Anne Sullivan, a teacher from a prestigious school for people with blindness. Their relationship and story would be dramatized in The Miracle Worker, originally authored by Keller as The Story of My Life. The story detailed her struggle to communicate despite being blind, deaf, and non-vocal, and how she and Anne worked together. It is generally praised for its depiction of the perseverance of the human spirit.
Keller eventually learned speech and attended Radcliffe College, where she graduated cum laude in 1904 at the age of 24. By this time, she had learned several forms of communication, including sign language, braille, and touch-lip reading. Sullivan remained her companion.
Helen Keller: Social Activist
Helen’s struggles motivated her to become a staunch advocate for others with disabilities. She also advocated for women’s suffrage, birth control, and pacifism, sometimes testifying in front of Congress. She was a key person in the founding of many groups and associations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920 and Helen Keller International. Keller even became an ambassador to advocate for the blind, taking on a 40,000-mile trek across Asia to give speeches and spread education.
Today, because of the efforts of Helen Keller, people of varying levels of deafness and blindness are able to lead more fulfilling lives with access to better services and education. Helen Keller was the first to prove that having a disability didn’t mean you couldn’t be a healthy, functioning member of society. Indeed, she proved that it was not the people with disabilities that needed fixing so much as the society that believed them broken. Her impact cannot be over overstated. She remains an inspiration to all of mankind.