In this series, Good Neighbor is highlighting notable individuals who overcame their disability or mental illness in ways that changed the people around them.
The 19th century was not a hospitable era for women or adults with disabilities. Helen Keller was both.
Born in 1880, Helen Keller spent the first year of her life being able to hear and see. Then she caught an illness. Keller lived, but she would spend the rest of her life in silence and darkness.
Constrained by her disability, Keller was forced to learn new ways of communicating with the world around her. The task felt impossible. But she didn’t have to do it alone. Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, was essential to teaching Keller to conquer her isolation and live a fulfilling life despite her setbacks.
Eventually, Helen Keller became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She also went on to become heavily active in politics—campaigning for the rights of women and adults with disabilities.
Keller’s childhood home is now a museum, and her birthday—June 27th—is now an international holiday. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.
At a time when adults with disabilities were mostly written off from society, Keller proved that people like her were just as capable as anyone to contribute to society and make the world a better place.
In 1904, she wrote The Story of My Life, an autobiography about her experiences growing up. In the book, she chronicles her struggles, but also her triumphs. Despite her darkness, she saw and appreciated the beauty of the world around her better than most. Her view of life is represented through one of the book’s most famous quotes: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
Keller knew what it meant to be cut off from the rest of the world. But that didn’t stop her from loving humanity and dedicating her life to helping others.
She continues to encourage and inspire all of us many years after her death.