Illustrations by Chris Danger

Helen Keller

She overcame challenges and made life better for people with disabilities.

Crash! Six-year-old Helen Keller flew into a rage during dinner, hurling dishes and silverware. She did her best to understand what was happening around her. But Keller was blind and deaf. Not being able to communicate often caused her to erupt in anger.

Keller’s challenges seemed impossible to overcome. Yet with the help of a patient teacher, she learned to read, write, and speak. Keller went on to become a world-famous author and advocate for people with disabilities.

A Major Moment

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Helen Keller

Keller was born in Alabama in 1880. When she was 2, she developed a terrible illness. Doctors didn’t think she’d survive. Keller recovered, but she lost her sight and hearing.

The next few years were a struggle—for Keller and her family. Desperate for help, her parents contacted the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. The school sent a teacher named Anne Sullivan.

At first, Keller lashed out at Sullivan too, even knocking out one of her teeth. Yet Sullivan refused to give up. She tried teaching Keller words by spelling them on her hand. But Keller didn’t understand what the letters meant.

One day, Sullivan had an idea. She put Keller’s hand into a stream of water from a pump. In Keller’s other hand, Sullivan traced the letters W-A-T-E-R over and over. Miraculously, Keller made the connection. The cool liquid streaming through her fingers was called water! It was a major breakthrough.

“That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free,” Keller later wrote.

Proving She Could

Keller’s vocabulary grew. She soon learned to read and write in braille. That’s a system of writing with raised dots that people feel with their fingers. Keller also learned to speak.

In 1900, with Sullivan by her side, 20-year-old Keller began attending Radcliffe College. Many people thought it was impossible for someone who was deaf and blind to earn a college degree. But Keller proved them wrong. While at Radcliffe, she even published her first autobiography, The Story of My Life.

Helping Others

Keller’s writing soon appeared in magazines and newspapers. She called for human rights. As more people read Keller’s work, they became inspired by her story. She used her fame to call attention to the challenges people with disabilities face.

Keller died in 1968 at age 87. She spent her life trying to make the world a better place.

“We are never really happy until we try to brighten the lives of others,” she once wrote.

  1. According to the article, why was Keller often angry when she was little?
  2. What is a breakthrough? What moment in Keller’s life does the author call a breakthrough?
  3. What was Keller’s message in her writings?
Skills Sheets (2)
Skills Sheets (2)
Games (1)
Slideshows (1)