Helen Keller – The Sighted Blind – Superminds 14

Until she was nineteen months old, Helen was a normal happy baby living with loving parents. At that age she had just started to talk, and had learnt one word when playing outside in the garden. It had started to rain and she loved the sensation and learnt the word rain, or water. Just at that time she became ill with scarlet fever. The illness was severe and it left Helen blind and deaf.

As Helen was born in 1880 there were no schools for the blind and deaf in the way there are now. She was therefore left to grow and learn as best she could. he thing she held in her hand. It seemed as if Helen was trapped forever in her dark, silent world.


Being blind and deaf she was as cut off from being able to learn from her parents and teachers as the children reared by animals were. Like them, she grew wild, violent, and without any feeling about her own existence. Then, when she was six years old, her parents arranged for Anne Sullivan, a teacher of the deaf and dumb, to see if she could help Helen. Anne used the method of touching her fingers to Helen’s, and through movements spelling out words. She would, for instance, put an apple in Helen’s hand, then move her fingers to spell apple. It was very difficult. Helen could not make the leap to connect the movements on her fingers with the words being spelt out.

The leap beyond darkness

One day there was a wonderful breakthrough. Anne had put one of Helen’s hands under water as it ran from a tap. She spelt out the word water with movements, and Helen suddenly made the extraordinary leap that we all make at some time, from knowing nothing but feelings, to being able to communicate and think. In describing that moment Helen has said, “Suddenly I felt… a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.” In trying to explain to people what it was like to live a life without words and thought, Helen said that although she existed, she didn’t know she existed. There was no pain because there was no ‘Helen’ to feel any pain, only a body with sensations. She existed as a sort of nothingness. When she remembered that one word, ‘water’, she said that “Nothingness was blotted out.” If she had never learnt that one word before becoming blind and deaf, she might have remained forever in her nothingness.

From the moment when Helen felt the water at her finger tips, woke up to being a person, and opened the door to being able to speak, it seemed that she could see with her finger tips. At that moment she “Suddenly … felt … a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed.”

Because most us were much younger when the wonder of language and thought flowered in us, we may not remember such an amazing moment. But for Helen, waking up to what we take for granted came when she was old enough to appreciate it. Seeing with her fingers was not at all dull for her. “Sometimes it seems as if the very substance of my flesh were so many eyes looking out” she said. “I only know that the world I see with my fingers is alive, ruddy, and satisfying.”

I am ME!!

The excitement of being a person didn’t leave Helen. She wanted to know all about the world, and explore it with the sight, hearing and sensitivity of her ‘seeing’ fingers. Not only could she see with her fingers, through them she could also feel people’s emotions. She said: “Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.” With my fingers I can “detect laughter, sorrow, and many other obvious emotions. I know my friends from the feel of their faces.”

Helen became famous throughout the world, wrote several books such as The Story of My Life, and lectured to people about being blind, and the wonders we could all ‘see’ in one way or another. Through her lectures and her books she raised money to help the handicapped. Many new techniques for helping the blind and deaf have been developed, helped by the impetus of Helen’s life and work.

People who met Helen often said that she appeared to be aware of things they had no sense of. She could feel a person’s presence and perhaps because her senses other than sight and hearing were so acutely developed, was aware of what was going on around her more than most people with normal vision and hearing.

From an animal I grew to be ME!

Unlike the animal children mentioned in another chapter, Helen was able to emerge into what we know as ordinary human life. What happened to Helen shows very clearly the importance of learning how to speak, or being involved in people communicating their thoughts and desires as one person to another. Some of the world’s great religions suggest that our personal existence is given us by God. Helen’s life, and the lives of the animal children suggest that our personal existence is actually given us by people around us when we are a baby, people who teach us to speak, and help us realise that we are a person. In looking back on her years before she knew herself as Helen, she says that it was like existing in a dream. She had at that time only physical sensations, and they passed quickly. Without any personal centre or name around which impressions could form like a crystal, they did not influence her in the way most of us are influenced, to be sad or happy.

Helen died in 1968.

What is it like to be blind and dumb?

When I was 18 I had an eye injury which caused me to have both eyes bandaged for six weeks while I was in a hospital bed. It was an extraordinary and wonderful experience. I met and responded to people in a very different way than I did when I could see them. Because you are not confused by how people look, you can have a much clearer feeling about what sort of person you are meeting.

When you have the support of those around you, it is well worth being blind for a day by keeping your eyes covered that long, and learning to move, eat, meet people, without the help of your sight.

Try it some time to discover a new world.

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-Bertha 2013-12-11 18:08:48

ahhhhh she is sooooo fantastic! I love her with alllll my heart!

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