Updated: Mar 8
Helen Keller was a tireless advocate and educator for the blind and deaf. Her efforts made great improvements in the lives of disabled people. These are ways that we can follow her example.
In life, our biggest challenges often build us up and define us. It’s the little things that give us more trouble.
Waking up every day and going through the motions can feel daunting. Those who persevere in the face of all those setbacks show true strength of character.
When someone comes along and refuses to surrender despite countless little setbacks, they serve as a beacon for all of us. That’s what Helen Keller was, and continues to be, for people everywhere who are facing hardship.
Helen Keller’s legacy as a writer and advocate for people with disabilities remains unmatched. And much of it resulted from hardships in her own life.
A Short Bio - Who’s Hellen Keller
She was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. During her lifetime, she became a highly regarded author and speaker. Her activism for people with disabilities was a lifelong passion. Her organization, founded in 1915, works to fight the causes and consequences of vision loss to this day.
Among her many other causes was women’s suffrage. She also worked to support birth control and devoted herself to pacifism. She was instrumental in the founding of the ACLU in 1920.
During her lifetime, Keller travelled all around the world. She travelled to over 40 countries including New Zealand and Japan. She was a favourite in Japan, returning many times.
At the age of 18 months, she fell ill to an unknown illness (suspected to be scarlet fever or meningitis). She survived the illness but lost her sight and hearing. This proved to be one of the most defining moments of her life.
A physician referred her family to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with the deaf at the time. Bell sent Helen Keller to the Perkins Institute for the Blind where she met Anne Sullivan. Sullivan was a former student and so had a unique insight into Keller’s condition.
Sullivan was the first person to break through to a young Helen Keller. She displayed a lot of patience in teaching Keller to connect words to objects. They remained close friends until Sullivan’s passing in 1936.
Since she lost her sight and hearing at such an early age, language was a major challenge. Anne Sullivan signed words in her palm, but there was no connection to objects.
A major breakthrough happened when Sullivan signed w-a-t-e-r into her palm while running well-water on it. Keller later recounted the event in her autobiography. She remembered it as a pivotal moment in her education.
With the help of an interpreter, she lectured throughout her life in support of various causes. Her efforts helped change the public perception of people with disabilities. She played a key role in removing disabled people from asylums. She eventually learned to speak and gave lectures in her own voice.
During her lifetime, she was a prolific writer. She wrote for many publications about the causes she championed. Moreover, she wrote 12 books, many about her own experiences and disabilities.
It’s hard to summarize all of Helen Keller’s accomplishments briefly. Her strength and courage in the face of adversity teaches us many lessons about overcoming.
Tip #1 – The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things
For many reasons, Helen Keller couldn’t reach the material world like most people. Her experience reminds us that our inner world is the ultimate solace.
The relationships we form in our lives and the experiences we foster are what truly defines us. Helen was able to find value in helping people like her. She lived a full and rich life without ever amassing any great fortune.
Even when she became one of the most famous people on the planet, she continued. In her words: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
She devoted her life to the things that made her feel whole and valuable. We can all take a page from her book.
Believing in who you are and what you stand for is more important than what you stand to gain.
Tip #2 – Perseverance Always Wins
Being a successful leader is about breaking through when others quit.
Helen Keller refused to give up. throughout her life, she never let her limitations define her. Instead, she fought tooth and nail every step of the way.
Even before meeting Ann Sullivan, she had developed her own sign language. She used it to communicate with her family.
When the press attacked her, she fought back. Several publications refused to print her articles. She didn’t give up. She protested and campaigned until she forced them to publish her work.
“We can do anything we want to do, if we stick to it long enough.” Sound like many such sayings you’ve heard before. But when you consider all she accomplished with this mentality, it takes on a new meaning.
Tip #3 – Everything is a Lesson
You can let the bad things that happen to you reduce you or build you up. The choice is yours.
Helen decided to make her “disabilities” into her most useful tool. People underestimated her constantly and that allowed her to make her mark.
Our experiences are all valuable in their own right. Especially the ones that challenge us.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
When you fail, embrace that lesson. It takes a lot of failures to get to success. A success earned through failure is always sweeter than the one that comes at no cost.
Whenever you find yourself struggling, remember that you’re also learning. That struggle is your future success.
Tip #4 – Treat Yourself the Way You Want Others to Treat You
It’s easy to fall into the habit of letting people define us.
Never let others dictate the terms of your life. Sometimes that’s easier said than done because it means taking charge. Taking charge also means being responsible for yourself.
To reach your full potential, you need to take responsibility for yourself. This means more than just being responsible for your actions. Take ownership of your feelings and emotions as well.
Your emotions are valid and you have every right to feel them. There is no prescription for your emotional world.
Don’t let others reduce you. Instead, start treating yourself like you matter.
In her unique mix of wit and brevity, Helen Keller said it best: “Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”
That’s the first step to demanding the treatment you deserve. Your attitude towards yourself shapes people’s responses to you.
Tip #5 – Have a Vision and Go After It
For a person without sight, Keller had an unshakeable vision. It compelled her to do great things in her life because she believed in herself.
If you don’t have a vision, you’re only making random movements.
Helen famously said it’s a terrible thing to see and have no vision. The weight of those words resonates more today than ever before. In today’s world, we obsess over getting somewhere. But no one can really agree on where that is.
Your dreams, ambitions, and hopes for the future aren’t trivial. Even if it seems like you’re not sure about where you’ll end up.
It’s better to have a vision and work towards it than to wander aimlessly. If you don’t end up where you hoped, at least you’ll have covered a lot of ground.
Tip #6 – Remain Open to Experience
Ann Sullivan was the first to teach Keller the connection between words and objects. On that day, she nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding to learn the names of everything she could find.
Hellen Keller defined herself by an insatiable thirst for growth and learning. She never let her apparent shortcomings stand in the way. She learned to speak. She could read lips by touch. She was a voracious reader and political theorist.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
A curious nature is crucial to the success of any leader. You have to remain open to possibilities in your life. Something that seems like a defeat today could end up being the opportunity of a lifetime.
Helen Keller overcame obstacles most of us can’t even fathom.
Through perseverance and force of will, she carved out her legacy. Today, we remember her as a champion of human rights.
She will forever remain an example of the power of a woman’s spirit. Use her path to guide your own.
If you’re ready to get started, get in touch to make arrangements for me to speak at your organization.