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Helen Keller: A woman of positivity

Spirit, Show on Corporate Home

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

These were strong words from a woman who was left blind and deaf before the age of 2. Yet Helen Keller’s ability to focus on the positive aspects of life has created a lasting impact on our society. She is known around the world as a symbol of courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.”

After the illness that robbed her of two key senses, Helen was considered wild and unmanageable by her parents. Without being able to hear, she was also unable to speak and therefore unable to tell anyone of her internal confusion about what was happening around her. Her family loved her but were unwilling to discipline her, allowing her to do as she pleased, including eating with her fingers and taking food off the plates of others at the table. But at the age of 7, she began to be tutored by Annie Sullivan, a young woman who also had suffered a childhood illness that affected her sight. Helen’s education, begun by rote repetition, evolved into a life-changing desire once they broke through the “dense fog” caused by the illness. When she discovered that each object had a different word and each word meant something unique, she described it as giving her soul life, “setting it free.”

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Helen blossomed quickly as a student, rapidly learning vocabulary words through the manual alphabet or finger spelling, along with multiplication tables and Braille. At 8 years old, she left home for formal schooling, with Annie Sullivan as a governess and guide along the way. She attended several schools and eventually graduated from Radcliffe College of Harvard University as a member of Phi Beta Kappa with the designation of being the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was determined to communicate as conventionally as possible and learned to speak through diligent tutelage at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. She spent much of her life traveling and speaking on aspects of her life, with her speeches often titled “Happiness.”

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

Helen was an advocate for people with disabilities along with other causes, and authored numerous books and articles, including her autobiography, “The Story of My Life” published in 1903, which captured her life story up to age 21. In later years, she co-founded an organization to help World War I veterans blinded in combat—which later became Helen Keller International—and spent much of her adult life raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind and serving as their ambassador and spokesperson for more than 40 years.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Helen Keller is widely known around the world for her intelligence, ambition and accomplishments. Driven by a deep compassion for others, she devoted her life and her abilities to help others overcome obstacles to healthy living and productive lives. Her efforts to improve public awareness and treatment of the deaf and blind were influential in removing persons with these disabilities from asylums as well as creating awareness of the need for state commissions for the blind, rehabilitation centers and accessible education for those with vision loss.

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.

As she traveled, Helen Keller brought encouragement and inspiration to millions of blind people and demonstrated opportunities to improve conditions for those with vision loss in countries around the world. She received numerous accolades, including honorary degrees and international awards and recognitions. In 1961, Helen was honored with the Lions Humanitarian Award, presented by the Lions Clubs International Foundation. The award detailed her lifetime of service to humanity and thanked her for providing the inspiration for their international programs that support sight conservation and aid to programs for the blind, which continue to benefit blind people around the world today.

In 1964 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson for her lifetime of service to humanity. She passed away at her home in Connecticut in 1968, and her ashes are interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.