In the summer of 1886, a young girl, hardly seven years old, groped her way around a cool, airy home in Alabama. She was blind and deaf. She couldn’t speak or write. She communicated with hand signs and body movements. She lived in a world of darkness. A prison, one out of which it was nearly impossible to escape. But this girl succeeded and went on to graduate from college and become a writer. This girl was Helen Keller.
Helen was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. Tragically, when she was just nineteen months old she fell ill to what doctors called “acute congestion of stomach and brain.” This illness left her blind and deaf.
Helen slowly learned to communicate in a crude way through hand signals and body movements. But her knowledge that the people around her communicated by moving their mouths kept her feeling left out and thoroughly frustrated. She would throw temper tantrums and have bouts of anger which made her violent.
When Helen was almost seven years old her parents sent for a teacher for their little girl. Anne Sullivan arrived in March of 1887. “It was the most important day of my life,” Helen said. Ms. Sullivan was a skilled teacher and began teaching Helen the use of the manual alphabet (this is a system of finger movements in someone’s hand, forming letters and words). But Helen did not grasp these lessons and it wasn’t until a fateful day by the water pump that Sullivan cracked open the door to Helen’s prison.
One day, Sullivan and Helen went for a walk towards the water pump. Once again, Teacher tried to teach Helen the meaning of letters and their connection to the objects around her. While Helen held her hand under the running water, Teacher spelled the word w-a-t-e-r into her hand. Suddenly, something in Helen’s mind clicked and she recognized the connection between the cool liquid and the letters w-a-t-e-r.
This event began a new curve for Helen. She was finally able to learn to read. Another important step was when she understood abstract ideas such as ‘thinking’ and ‘love.’
Then, in the spring of 1890 Helen began learning how to speak. She had accidently heard of a blind/deaf child who had miraculously learned to speak. With the help of Anne Sullivan and another woman, Ms. Fuller, Helen began learning the alphabet. Her first letters were M, P, A, S, T, I. And soon after, Helen spoke her first sentence: “It is warm.” Later she would say: “I am not dumb now.”
In my opinion, Helen’s ability to speak, more so even than her ability to read, write or use the manual alphabet, was her key to getting out of her prison. She was now able to communicate with the entire world, not only the few who could understand the manual alphabet. She had been determined, she had succeeded, and now she was free.
Two videos from Helen Keller:
How Ms. Sullivan taught Helen how to speak-