The Miracle Worker's bright path through darkness
Ms Deepika Kommanapalli
This article commemorates the 135th birthday of an incredible woman, a political activist, lecturer and the renowned author, Helen Keller.
Years passed but her words-“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” are echoed till date. Helen was born on 27th June, 1880 in Tuscumbia, a rural town in Alabama, USA. At the age of eighteen months, she fell ill and was left blind, deaf and mute. Despite these limitations, by the age of six, she had developed about sixty hand gestures to communicate with her parents and sister. However, she constantly struggled to express herself leaving her frustrated, stubborn and disappointed, to a point where her relatives felt that she should be institutionalised.
But the concerned parents researched about her condition and based on the advice of Alexander Graham Bell (who at the time was working with deaf children) took her to Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. Michael Anagnos, the then-director of Perkins school appointed Anne Sullivan (herself visually impaired) as a mentor for Helen. There began a 49 year companionship which played a crucial role in Helen’s life. Anne’s consistent support and relentless effort helped Helen graduate from Radcliffe College, becoming the first person with hearing and visual impairment to receive a Bachelor’s of Art degree. By this time, she mastered several ways of communication including finger-spelling, typing, speech, Braille and touch-lip reading. She also wrote her first book ‘The Story of My Life’ with Anne’s assistance. She was instrumental in the legislative process that created the Talking book program and was a huge advocate of novel technology that enhanced the lifestyle of people with disabilities.
After college, Keller set out to utilise her educational achievements to improve lives of those living with disabilities. She was an active member of the American Federation for the Blind, Permanent Blind War Relief fund and co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. Helen also made major contributions to several social and political issues with a special focus on birth control, women’s suffrage and pacifism.
Helen received numerous honours throughout her life in recognition of her academic and humanitarian efforts and received honorary doctoral degrees from various reputed institutes including The University of Delhi, India.
Helen’s life story demonstrates that determination, inner strength, optimism, courage and perseverance can change the world’s attitude to disability. Her life also portraits the triumph of an individual’s imagination over adversity and showcase her remarkable life of not only sailing across difficulties but also growing into a respected citizen and social activist who laboured for the betterment of others. A special mention to Anne whose continuous support and guidance played a key role in Helen’s accomplishments.
On this occasion, let’s remember ‘faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light’.
Miss Deepika Kommanapalli is currently a postgraduate student at University of Bradford. Her research interests include hereditary retinal diseases, colour vision and electrophysiology of vision. She graduated from Bausch and Lomb School of Optometry in the year 2009 and went on to work with Smt. Kanuri Santhamma Centre for Vitreo-Retinal Diseases, LVPEI. During her tenure at LVPEI, she developed interest in clinical diagnostic procedures with a particular focus on visual electrophysiology which led her to pursue PhD in that area. Her PhD research investigates recording signals from different photoreceptor populations using electroretinograms and understanding their contribution to colour and luminance vision in health and disease. She has publications in international peer-reviewed journals and is a member of British chapter of the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision (BriSCEV) and International Colour Vision Society (ICVS).