There is an image of Helen Keller in the public mind that was formed by the movie The Miracle Worker.  The movie portrays a young woman who is blind and deaf, overcoming great odds to learn basic communication skills that most people learn at a younger age.  This quintessential American movie shows a person who refuses to let their disability hold them back in life.  An important part of the story that is not stressed is that for all intents and purposes, she was a child of privilege.  Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was flown in from another part of the country to tutor her.  In fact, kids who were blind and deaf in those days were sent to an asylum, but Helen was spared that fate because of the connections her parents had.  Although looking at the situation from that perspective requires a critical analysis. The significant parts of her life, as far as the general public is aware, is incomplete.

Helen was a person who recognized that she came from privilege, and dedicated her life to relieving the pain and suffering of others who were less fortunate.  Much of her realization of her privilege came about from her college days at Radcliffe College.  Like many college students from a conservative background, she became radicalized and never looked back.   Her most celebrated advocacy throughout her life was as chief advocate for the American Foundation for the Blind.  In those days, she became the public face and bought a lot of attention to the problems and causes associated with blindness that would have otherwise been ignored.

A vital, but not often discussed part of her legacy was as a crusader against poverty.  In an effort to publicize the plight of the poor, she authored several books on the subject such as Social Causes of Blindness, The Unemployed, and The Underprivileged.  Another important part of her contribution to society is that she was a feminist who fought for woman’s suffrage.  By authoring these books, she sought to bring public awareness to her observation that blindness is more common among poor people.  As laudable as her advocacy was, she had critics who derided her work as the work of a blind and deaf person prone to error.

When looking at the life of Helen Keller, Making It to The Finish Line can look a number of lessons.  For one thing, despite having barriers putting them at a great disadvantage, it is possible to break them down.  Another thing is that bringing public attention to a cause and increasing awareness is a way to make lasting changes.  If you are interested in finding out more about Helen Keller and other influential women, check out the source below.

Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.

 

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