Tag Archives: People with Disabilities

Helen Keller: Overcame Disabilities

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Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her t...

Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams. At 6 months, Helen began to talk but at 18 months, she became ill with “brain fever,” now believed to be meningitis or scarlet fever. Her mother quickly discovered that Keller became blind, dead, and mute. As a child, she developed a method of communicated with Marta Washington, the daughter of the family cook. Though she was able to communicate basic terms with her family, she could become wild and throw tantrums, causing family relatives to believe that she should be institutionalized.

In 1886, her mother came across Charles Dickens’ American Notes. It described the successful education of another deaf and blind girl named Laura Bridgman. Keller and her father went to Baltimore to see a specialist, who sent them to Alexander Graham Bell, who sent them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. The director’s institution recommended recent graduate, Anne Sullivan. In March 1887, Sullivan went to Keller’s home in Alabama. While Helen Keller was first cooperating with Sullivan, she began to object to Sullivan’s teaching so Sullivan demanded Keller be cut off from the rest of the family. A month later, Sullivan taught Keller her first word Water, helping her to make the connection between the object and the letters. Sullivan took Keller out to the water pump, placed Keller’s hand under the spout, and spelled out the word w-a-t-e-r on Helen’s hand. By nightfall, Keller had learned 30 words.

In 1890, Keller began speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston and learned how to talk. She met Mark Twain, who introduced her to Standard Oil Executive Henry H. Rogers, who paid for Keller to attend Radcliff College. Sullivan continued to stay with Keller, helping her interpret lectures and texts. On 1904, Keller became the first deaf blind person to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.Sullivan went on to marry Harvard University instructor John Macy. When Keller was not traveling, she stayed with them. Keller traveled the country giving speeches on women’s suffrage, birth control, and improving welfare for blind people. In 1920, she help found the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1936, Sullivan died after suffering from health problems for years. She had bad eyesight her whole life and ended up losing her eyesight completely in 1932. Keller’s secretary, Polly Thompson became Keller’s constant companion. Sullivan died with Keller holding her hand. In 1946, Keller was appointed counselor of international relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind. She traveled to 35 countries, inspiring her audience with her story of overcoming disabilities. On September 16, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in her sleep on June 1, 1868. Her ashes were buried next to companions Anne Sullivan and Polly Thompson.

Helen Keller was able to overcome her disabilities, inspiring millions that they too could overcome  obstacles in their lives. Keller dedicated her life advocating change for people with disabilities, proving that they were also equal human beings. At that time, people with disabilities were not accepted in society. Besides becoming an advocate for people with disabilities, she also became an advocate for women and the working class. Keller was inspired to be a strong woman because of her mother and her teacher. Her mother refused to send her away, believing that one day she could be educated. Anne Sullivan, dealing with her own eyesight problem, was able to control Keller’s bad behavior, bringing meaning to the girl’s life. A bronze statue of Helen Keller was added to the United States Capitol Visitior Center. It shows Keller as a 7-year-old girl at the water pump, learning how w-a-t-e-r. The plaque is in braille. and reads “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” While I was there, I saw a blind girl reading the braille plaque, witnessing first-hand how Helen Keller continues to inspire.

Sources:

Helen Keller. biography

Helen Keller

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Juliette Gordon Low: First Girl Scout

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English: Juliette Gordon Low Category:Girl Sco...

English: Juliette Gordon Low Category:Girl Scouts of the USA images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Americans know who the Girl Scouts are: they are the cute young girls wearing green vests that go door-to-door selling cookies. When these girls aren’t telling cookies, they are learning leadership skills and survival skills while making friends and volunteering in the community. When Juliette Gordon Low created the Girl Scouts, she wanted girls to go outside the house… to learn about the stars, to administer first aid, and to volunteer within the community. She wanted a group that would accept all girls, no matter their race, religion, disability, or family’s income. When she created the Girl Scouts, America was still segregated and girls were expected to grow up to be house wives. Now, more than 59 million American women have been a Girl Scout at one point in their lives – these women include actresses, reporters, senators, and even astronauts.

Juliette Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia. Her parents were Eleanor Kinzie Gordon and Confederate Captain William Washington Gordon II. Low spent her childhood writing poems, sketching, painting, sculpting, and taking care of stray animals. After finishing Virginia Female Institute in Virginia, she traveled throughout the United States and Europe. She also dealt with ear infections in her childhood, resulting in partial hearing loss in one ear. On December 21, 1886, she married wealthy Englishman William Mackay Low. After the wedding, during the rice tossing, a piece of rice became lodged in her ear. While trying to remove the rice, the doctor punctured the eardrum, resulting in the total loss of that ear.

She moved to England but returned to the United States to help her mother in the war effort during the Spanish-American War. She returned to England to find her husband’s mistress in their home; they divorced in 1901. In 1911, she met Sir Robert Baden, founder of the Boy Scouts. He was interested in a similar organization for girls. Low returned home and called her cousin, Nina Pape, saying “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all of the world, and we’re going to start it tonight.” On March 12, 1912, Low gathered 18 girls to register the first two patrols of the American Girl Guides (changed to Girl Scouts the next year.)

The girl scouts was created for girls to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness and to encourage girls to prepare for traditional domestic skills and future roles as professional women. Low’s goal was to bring girls out of the home and to go outside. The Girls Scouts also welcomed girls with disabilities at a time when they were excluded from many activities. Low also welcomed African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics girls at a time when minorities were excluded. This was because Low herself had a disability due to her partial hearing. Low died on January 17, 1927, from breast cancer. In her pocket she has a telegram from the national board of girls scouts of the United States, “You are not only the first Girl Scout, you are the best Girl Scout of them all.”

100 years ago, the Girl Scouts had 18 members. Now, it currently has 3.2 million members in the United States. It is the largest educational organization in the world and has influenced more than 50 million girls, women, and men who have belonged to it. Due to Low’s hearing loss, Low was determined to create a group that would teach girls to accept people of different backgrounds. The Girl Scouts was ahead of its time in 1912 when it accepted minorities, immigrants, and people with disabilities and it is still ahead of its time since it accepts homosexuals, unlike the Boy Scouts. Low wanted girls to learn skills that would help them to grow up and become strong leaders. The fact that two-thirds of Congress have been Girl Scouts is proof that her goal became a reality. Remember the next time a girl comes to the door selling cookies, she could be the first female president.

Sources:

Girl Scouts

Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace