Life Background and Contributions of Helen Keller for Deaf and Blind Research Paper

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Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880. Keller fell ill in 1882 (at the age of two), and as a consequence became both blind and deaf. Beginning in 1887, Anne Sullivan, Keller's teacher, assisted her tremendously in making progress with communication. Keller went on to graduate from college in 1904. Keller founded the ACLU in 1920. During the course of her life, she was renowned for a variety of major accomplishments and was honored several times (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

Early Life

Keller's parents, Arthur H. Keller and Katherine Adams Keller, gave birth to two daughters; Helen Keller being one of them. Her father was part of the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Keller's family was not affluent, and their source of income was mainly their cotton plantation. Mr. Arthur Keller went on to become the editor of a local weekly newspaper called the 'North Alabamian'. When Keller was born, her senses were normal; by the age of six she had already begun speaking again. She began walking when she was one-year-old (Helen Keller Biography, n.d).

Loss of Sight and Hearing

Keller became ill in 1882 with an illness the family doctor referred to as "brain fever." The illness was characterized by high body temperatures. What exactly the illness was is still a mystery, although a number of experts hold the belief that it might have been meningitis or scarlet fever. In a few days following the contraction of the illness, the mother observed that her daughter did not react in any way to either a dinner bell being rung or to a waving hand in front of her face. She was only aged 18 months when she lost her hearing and sight (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).As she advanced into childhood, Keller had come up with ways to communicate with Martha Washington, a companion who was the young daughter of the family cook. A kind of sign language had been developed between them and at the age of 7, approximately 60 signs were being used to aid their communication. However, Keller grew unruly and wild at this period. She kicked and screamed in times of anger and giggled uncontrollably when joyous. She threw tantrums at her parents and tormented her companion. A number of relatives felt that Martha ought to be institutionalized (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

Educator Anne Sullivan

While searching for inspiration and answers, Keller's mother stumbled upon Charles Dickens' travelogue 'American Notes'. She came across the story of another child, Laura Bridgam -- deaf and blind -- that had been successfully educated. She then dispatched her daughter, Keller, and the father to see Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, a specialist, in Baltimore, Maryland. On examining Helen Keller, the specialist recommended that they see the telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who was engaged in some work with deaf children during that time. Keller's parents met Bell and he suggested that they go to Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. In Boston, Keller's family met Michael Anaganos who was the director of the school. He recommended that Keller work with Anne Sullivan who had graduated from the school recently. This was the beginning of the amazing Keller-Sullivan relationship of 49 years (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).In March of 1887, Sullivan went to Alabama -- Keller's home -- and started working. She started teaching her student finger spelling, beginning with the word "doll," to assist her to comprehend the doll gift she had brought with her for Helen. They learned more words after that. In the beginning, Keller was filled with curiosity; however, she came defiant afterward and refused to cooperate with the instructions given by Sullivan. At the times when she did cooperate, Sullivan noticed that Helen was not making the connection between the spelled letters and the objects being pronounced. Sullivan continued working on it, insisting that Helen follow through on the regimen. With Keller's growing frustration came more tantrums. Finally, the teacher demanded that she and her student be isolated from the other family members for some time to ensure that Keller was only focused on her instruction. This lead to them moving to a cottage built in the plantation (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

In a struggle so dramatic, Sullivan was able to teach her student the word "water." The connection was made at the water pump as the teacher made the student feel the water gushing from the spout then making her spell the letters of the word on the other hand -- w-a-t-e-r. Finally, Keller not only made the connection between
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the flowing water and the spelled-out symbols, but was able to actually repeat the word on the hands of Sullivan. With this breakthrough, spelling words for other objects followed; by dusk of that day, thirty words had been learned (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

Social Activism and Contributions

After going through college, Keller went out to learn more about the world and the contribution she could make in it by assisting other people in the society. News about Keller began to spread, and she achieved celebrity status as a lecturer telling her audiences her experiences. Over the course of the 20th century's first half, she tackled political and social issues, including pacifism, birth control, and women's suffrage. She went before the congress to testify as an advocate for the improvement of blind people's welfare. She was assisted by George Kessler, then a well-known city planner, to co-found 'Helen Keller International' to help fight the causes and consequences of malnutrition and blindness. She was also instrumental in the founding of American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

On the founding of the American Federation for the Blind in 1921, Helen Keller found an effective avenue for the efforts she was making. She joined the federation in 1924 and was part of several campaigns raising awareness, funds, and support for those visually impaired. Keller also joined a number of organizations that were working to help the less fortunate like the Permanent War Relief Fund which was later renamed the American Braille Press (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

Immediately following her graduation from college, Keller joined the Socialist Party, probably because of her friendship with John Macy. She wrote many articles on the subject of socialism between the years of 1909 and 1921, and gave her support for Eugene Debs who was running for president on the Socialist Party. "Out of the Dark" - Keller's essay series -- made known what her views on socialism were (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

It was at this period that Keller faced prejudice concerning her physical impairments. For the better part of her life, she had received overwhelming support from the press, heaping praise on her intelligence and support. However, upon expressing her views on socialism, critics drew attention to Keller's disabilities. A newspaper called the Brooklyn Eagle even wrote that the mistakes Keller was making were because of her limited development (Helen Keller Biography, n.d.).

While her disabilities weren't her career's focus, Keller's view was that it was vital that people become educated on her condition in order to assist those who were is a similar situation. Later on in her career, Anne and Keller traveled to over thirty-nine nations to assist in the establishment of organizations to help the disabled. This program was instrumental in the developing the modern methods of teaching used for disabled children. It assisted doctors to improve the Todoma method, as well as to discover that there is hope for the blind and deaf. What was so prominent about Keller's disabilities was that she became a symbol of individuals who could overcome these conditions. All over the world, Keller inspired people who had similar conditions. The activities of Keller were during the Industrial stage of America. At that time, women weren't able to express their opinions freely. To overcome this, Keller became a suffragette (Reeves, 2010).

Keller's views were published in the New York Times in 1913. She opined that allowing women to vote would allow men not to guess -- and guess incorrectly -- the desires of women. The ability to vote would mean that women would be capable of protecting themselves from laws that go against their interests. She said that despite men's chivalry and disposition to protect women, they ought to be freed of this responsibility and women should be allowed to protect themselves through laws that protect their rights. That was quite a stance and showed her strong-mindedness. From the speeches she gave and the writings published, Keller soon became a recognized women's-rights activist. In 1920, her goals were realized when women were finally allowed to vote. At the time there was debate on birth control and Keller was also a proponent of birth control. This was a sore subject at the time but Keller held her ground (Reeves, 2010).

The circumstances of the unfortunate deaf-blind that were unable to afford help had a great influence on Helen Keller and she tried her best to…

Sources Used in Documents:


Friedman, C. (2008). Helen Keller: Influences and Contributions. Nazmuslabs. Retrieved from:

Helen Keller Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Reeves, G. (2010). Helen Keller's Contribution to Society. Learn Quebec.

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