June is Deafblind Awareness Month, and this week is Deafblind Awareness Week. Today is also the birthday of
Even when I was blind and hearing, I've always had an interest in Helen Keller, and her life.
We all know that she was truly a pioneer of her time. But rarely, do we stop to think about what her time was like. Things were different, then. Attitudes about disability were radically different, and Helen Keller never had the opportunities that we-- as Deafblind people have today. She is often portrayed as an amazing woman, an angelic figure-- admired for her strength of will, and ever-hungering mind. But how did Helen Keller feel about her own situation? How did she feel about her own deafblindness.
In 1906, Helen Keller asked the author Mark Twain to give a speech at the association of promoting the interests of the blind. She was unable to preside herself, and sent her good friend to speak to them. She also sent him with a letter to read at the meeting. It gives us a very clear look into her feelings about blindness.
"To know what the blind man needs, you who can see must imagine what it would be not to see, and you can imagine it more vividly if you remember that before your journey's end you may have to go the dark way yourself. Try to realize what blindness means to those whose joyous activity is stricken to inaction. It is to live long, long days, and life is made up of days. It is to live immured, baffled, impotent, all God's world shut out. It is to sit helpless, defrauded, while your spirit strains and tugs at its fetters, and your shoulders ache for the burden they are denied, the rightful burden of labor. The seeing man goes about his business confident and self-dependent. He does his share of the work of the world in mine, in quarry, in factory, in counting room, asking of others no boon, save the opportunity to do a man's part and to receive the laborer's guerdon. In an instant accident blinds him. The day is blotted out. Night envelops all the visible world. The feet which once bore him to his task with firm and confident stride stumble and halt and fear the forward step. He is forced to a new habit of idleness, which like a canker consumes the mind and destroys its beautiful faculties. Memory confronts him with his lighted past. Amid the tangible ruins of his life as it promised to be he gropes his pitiful way. You have met him on your busy thoroughfares with faltering feet and outstretched hands, patiently "dredging" the universal dark, holding out for sale his petty wares, or his cap for your pennies; and this was a man with ambitions and capabilities."
When I read this for the first time, my heart broke. I can't imagine how a person could carry on, believing such things about themselves. But it is because she did carry on that deafblind people have the lives we do today.
We can work, we are enjoying life, we travel proudly with confidence. I myself have work which is wonderful and satisfying. I have encouraging friends and family, and meaningful social activities. I have the ability to travel independently, where ever, and when ever I wish-- only limited by finances and time, and responsibility. And the fact that my travel can, at times, be curtailed because of my responsibilities is indeed a blessing. People rely on me, they need me to do various things. I am important, and as much as traveling is a pleasure and a blessing, returning home is an even bigger one.
In the beginning of her letter, Helen Keller states:
"It is a great disappointment to me not to be with you and the other friends who have joined their strength to uplift the blind. The meeting in New York will be the greatest occasion in the movement which has so long engaged my heart: and I regret keenly not to be present and feel the inspiration of living contact with such an assembly of wit, wisdom and philanthropy. I shall be happy if I could have spelled into my hand the words as they fall from your lips, and receive, even as it is uttered, the eloquence of our Newest Ambassador to the blind. We have not had such advocates before. My disappointment is softened by the thought that never at any meeting was the right word so sure to be spoken. But, superfluous as all other appeals must seem after you and Mr. Choate have spoken, nevertheless, as I am a woman, I cannot be silent, and I ask you to read this letter, knowing that it will be lifted to eloquence by your kindly voice.."
These things are now possible. Through the use of relay Services, Captioning, and Transcripts, as well as VRS, SSP's and Interpreters, we are far more able to be a part of our own world. I have instant access to books, to information, to things which never have been even dreamed back in Miss Keller's day.
I have never been ashamed to be Deafblind. I have had the blessing of a loving family, with high standards, good and patient teachers, fabulous role-models, and supportive friends. If I want to do something badly enough-- I will do it, and nothing can stop me.
At the closing of her letter, she says:
"It is because we know that these ambitions and capabilities can be fulfilled that we are working to improve the condition of the adult blind. You cannot bring back the light of the vacant eyes; but you can give a helping hand to the sightless along their dark pilgrimage. You can teach them new skill. For work they once did with the aid of their eyes you can substitute work that they can do with their hands. They ask only opportunity, and opportunity is a torch in the darkness. They crave no charity, no pension, but the satisfaction that comes from lucrative toil, and this satisfaction is the right of every human being."
It is because of people like Helen Keller that we have the freedoms and opportunities we do today. My most profound thanks go out to Ms. Keller, and every other person who has worked to make a better tomorrow. It is now, our responsibility as people who are deafblind, to continue the fight for improvement. If we are hoping to go forward, we must fight, every day. It means writing to Congress Men and Women, it means going to meetings and letting your voice be herd. It means teaching and it is about learning. Most of all, it is about never accepting second best-- standing up,being proud, and knowing that we are making a better future.