By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Ala., Helen Keller could see and hear normally until she was stricken with a fever and illness at age 18 months, an illness so severe that left her blind and deaf. With the invaluable help of an exceptional teacher, Anne Sullivan, she broke through the world of darkness and isolation at age seven, learning to communicate with sign language and read braille. A few years later, she had even learned to speak. She was the first deaf-blind person ever to earn a bachelor of arts degree and went on to become a world famous writer, lecturer and political activist who counted among her friends such notables as Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Alexander Graham Bell.
As a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, she became one of the most noted humanitarians of the 20th century, credited with changing the way Americans viewed the disabled.
In 1921, she began the American Foundation for the Blind, having discovered through research that many forms of blindness were preventable, and campaigned against dangerous and unhealthy labor conditions that sometimes led to blindness among workers.
In 1925, she attended the Lions Club International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
Below are some excerpts from her speech:
“What I offer you is full of splendid opportunities for service…”
“The American Foundation for the Blind is only four years old. It grew out of the imperative needs of the blind, and was called into existence by the sightless themselves. It is national and international in scope and in importance. It represents the best and most enlightened thought on our subject that has been reached so far. Its object is to make the lives of the blind more worthwhile everywhere by increasing their economic value and giving them the joy of normal activity….”
“The opportunity I bring to you, Lions, is this: To foster and sponsor the work of the American Foundation for the Blind. Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?”
The Lions Club accepted her challenge and their work ever since has included sight programs aimed at preventable blindness.