Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

AFB Blog

Track This Blog By E-mail

Helen Keller Sees Flowers and Hears Music

Helen Keller seated on a bench with two unidentified boys and her dog Hans in her Forest Hills garden, Queens, circa 1920s

Helen Keller was interviewed in her home in Forest Hills, Queens by Hazel Gertrude Kinscella in 1930 for Better Homes and Gardens. The article, entitled "Helen Keller Sees Flowers and Hears Music" is excerpted here; it appeared in their May issue. Read on and enjoy!

"...You wish to know what home and garden mean to me,” she said, at once. "

"My garden is my greatest joy. I feel that I am in the seventh heaven when among my plants. I feel the little heads pop up to look at me — my poppies, pansies, and pinks. We had a fine time in our garden last night with the hose. We have just set out a little Siberian elm tree, and not knowing that it was going to rain in the night we watered it well. It took two of us to drag the hose around, and I got so dirty…

"There in my garden I have my ‘green circle’ where I walk for at least an hour every day or evening. It is very narrow, but it reaches to the stars! On one side of this narrow walk is a privet hedge — on the other, small evergreen trees to guide me in my walk.

We have as many things as we can. Our clematis is just planted. It is always a miracle to see young trees grow. I take unusual joy in the dogwood and the wisteria, of which there has been a profusion. And here is syringa earlier than usual," she concluded, indicating with her right hand an exquisite cluster of syringa and white peonies which stood in a quaint blue bowl on a low table in the hallway."

"Are all these flowers from your garden? " I asked, for the room was fragrant with the odor of the blossoms which were everywhere so tastefully arranged.

"Yes, indeed," was the reply, but you must not think we have a big garden because we seem to have so many flowers. We will show you what we have before you go. At its best it is not much, " she concluded modestly…

…At one end of the divan upon which we sat was a low table and on this was another bowl full of white peonies.

"I adore the peonies, " said Miss Keller. "Since my childhood I have adored them and have been glad each spring when the miracle of their bloom has been wrought again. "

Beside me, at the other end of the divan was a higher table and on it, a tall bouquet of violet and cream iris. On the library table near the fireplace was another bouquet, this one of fragrant red roses and white peonies.

I mentioned their fragrance.

"I really like no flowers without fragrance, as fragrance is their soul, to me, ‘said Miss Keller’. As color is to the eye, so is fragrance to me my way of recognizing them. Also I feel them, their form, shape, stem, even their pistils. "


Aside from the beauty which is immediately visible in the large parlor — or living room in the way of rare ivories and art pieces, delicate Japanese prints framed and hung, an exquisite Japanese screen before the fireplace… comfort and entertainment are provided for all. There is a sweet-toned piano at one end of the room, the music of which Miss Keller feels through its vibrations. The other end of the room is filled with book-shelves.

Hans — the beautiful big Dane was sent Miss Keller just a year ago in June by her German publisher in Stuttgart — was meanwhile interestedly watching every movement in the room and when his mistress rose and started to take me through the house before going out into the garden, he rose and followed closely behind her.

…Miss Keller really works very steadily, with her continual studying, lecturing and writing. But for her pastimes — "I play solitaire, sew and embroider, I walk, we play checkers, and I read most of all. But how I love my radio, I listen to it each night. Here is my little radio room, " and she ushered me in.

" [My radio] enables me to feel the beautiful music every night. I like the Goldman band concerts; the quaint old melodies some entertainers sing; comic opera, Gilbert and Sullivan; and Wagner. It is so tantalizing when one feels the announcers (sic.) voice. I can distinguish the various instruments, the human voices and the applause. This age of invention is so astonishing! What is my favorite music? One of my favorites is the Wagner "Fire Music. "

…With a skillful twist of the hand, Miss Keller turned the radio going, touched it lightly, adjusted it again, then with one hand barely touching the frame, and head slightly tipped, she ‘listened’ while instantly her free hand indicated the rhythmic pulsations she was feeling.

A thrill went through me as I recognized the music which the radio pianist was playing for the coincidence was so startling! In a moment Miss Keller turned her face slightly toward me. "It is the" Moonlight" Sonata, which Beethoven — the deaf pianist — played for the blind-girl. "

…Then we went downstairs to go out into the garden, Miss Keller leading the way…


Next to the house was a spot where the tulips and daffodils had just finished blooming – now the later flowers were coming into blossom, and all along the house, inside the front hedge and along the wall-hedge at the side of the lawn were representatives of almost every lovely flower that grows…Near the fence was a showy bunch of gaudily colored oriental poppies. When Miss Keller slipped her fingers under the cup of one of those flowers to show it to me, the petals, already ripe, fell off into her hand.

"A pool of crimson beauty in my hand, " she said, then tossed the petals aside.

"My impressions of color are emotional, symbolical. I am interested in the theory that there is a correspondence between all the colors in the visible world and the soul within."

…as I said good-bye and took my departure — after being given a fragrant little rose by Miss Keller to complete my bouquet – I carried with me a mental picture which will not fade, of a Home-Keeping Heart, of a joyous and valiant traveler on the Path of Happiness.

Image: Helen Keller with two unidentified children in the garden of her Forest Hills home, circa 1930s

Social Life and Recreation
Arts and Leisure
Helen Keller

10 Accessibility Resources in Honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD)

visually impaired woman touching a tablet computer

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, please enjoy and share these resources, and add your own suggestions in the comments!

1. AccessWorld®—AFB's free online magazine is devoted to technology news for people who are blind or visually impaired. AccessWorld keeps people with vision loss and their families, teachers, rehabilitation counselors, product developers and manufacturers up to date about the technologies that can transform their lives: smart glasses, fitness tools, mobile apps, vision research, and more.

Each month's issue features objective reviews, informed commentary, and in-depth reporting on technology news and trends—sign up to receive an e-mailed alert every time a new issue of AccessWorld or breaking news article becomes available, or download the free AccessWorld app.

2. AFB's Accessible Product Database—This is a comprehensive listing of assistive technology products used by people who are blind or visually impaired. It is the place to go to search for a product or manufacturer, find out what products are out there, and decide which product is best for you, a family member, or one of your clients.

3. AFB Tech’s consulting services—AFB Tech offers accessibility and usability consulting for companies, organizations, and individuals. Let us show you how making your product accessible will make it better for all users and more profitable for you. When you use good design principles that incorporate accessibility and, more importantly, usability, your product will be more robust and useful to everyone.

4. AFB webinars on assistive and mainstream technology—Explore AFB's webinars and online courses on assistive technology, low vision tools, iPads, and more. We offer continuing education credits through the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP), Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) , and American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

5. The W3C website—The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. W3C's mission is to lead the Web to its full potential. Check out its markup validator (not an accessibility validator, but an important first step), which checks the markup validity of Web documents in HTML, XHTML, SMIL, MathML, etc.

6. WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind—WebAIM's mission is to empower organizations to make their web content accessible to people with disabilities. Check out their color contrast checker, and WAVE web accessibility tool.

7. Conferences like the AFB Leadership Conference, CSUN, and ATIA. Stay up to date on the latest conferences related to accessible technology by signing up for a free My AFB account, and selecting "Events and conferences relating to blindness and low vision" as one of your interest categories. You'll get emails whenever a new event is added to the AFB community calendar.

8. The AFB Accessible Player—Developed by AFB, this fully accessible, embeddable video player with HTML5 controls is available as a free download for other web developers. Currently in beta, the player offers keyboard access to the main controls (play, stop, forward, backward, full screen), and is stylesheet-driven, so it can adapt to user's color and contrast preferences.

9. Described TV Listings—Several of the most popular television networks are making certain prime-time and children's programs accessible to viewers with vision loss by adding video description, as required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). Use our Described TV Listings search tool to find out what video-described shows will be airing soon.

10. Websites of Leading Cell Phone Manufacturers, Service Providers, and Third-Party Software Developers—Important note! AFB created this page simply for the convenience of our users. We do not endorse any company listed on this page, and do not endorse the accessibility of any website listed.

You can learn more about AFB's commitment to improving accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired. Please share these resources with others, and let us know how you are celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Web Accessibility

Apple Watch Day 1: How a Blind User Pairs the Watch with the iPhone

Crista Earl, standing with her dog guide, Paige

Crista Earl, Director of AFB Web Services

I love tools and gadgets, and I love accessible gadgets the most. Since I have a visual impairment, I'm used to having to wait around for the "special" stuff. So, the things I love the most are mainstream gadgets that come out of the box being accessible.

Now that I've had my Apple Watch, the sport version, for thirty-six hours, I hope I can clear up some of your first-day questions. (See the earlier AFB Blog post, A First Look at the Apple Watch and Its Accessibility for some more information about its features. The Apple Watch is a smartwatch that incorporates fitness and health-tracking features, as well as integration with other Apple products and services.)

When I received the tracking notice for the package, I set aside a couple of hours and braced myself for that usual frustration of getting acquainted with a new device.


If yours is on its way, or you're sitting there with packaging pieces everywhere, the first thing you want to know is, how do you pair it with the phone without vision?

Don't panic. Go get a healthy snack, because you'll need to be in a good humor. But, it's totally doable.

Here's a quick rundown of what we're doing, then the steps: We're going to get VoiceOver (the built-in screen reader) going on the watch, then we're going to get the watch and the phone to talk to each other, then we're going to get our accessibility options set the way we like them.

Getting Started with VoiceOver on the Apple Watch, Step by Step:

Apple Watch, modeled on wrist, with paired iPhone nearby

1. Turn on the watch. You do this by pressing the flatter of the two buttons on the side. You may get a tiny sound effect. I didn't notice it the first few times, so if you don't, just proceed.

2. Tap the screen three times in quick succession. If you're a regular VoiceOver on the iPhone user, think of this as triple-clicking the home button, the usual way you would turn on VoiceOver when someone has turned it off.

3. If you've succeeded in turning on the watch and on triple-clicking, the watch will start talking. It can take a couple of seconds... if you've waited a minute and no sound is coming out, then you either didn't get the watch turned on, or you waited too long and it went to sleep again, or you didn't get the three taps quite right. Wait three minutes (maybe not that long) and start over.

4. OK, now we pair with the phone. This is where you really need to have had those almonds and baby carrots. The watch and the phone are going to talk you through the steps, but at one point you'll be asked to type in a 6-digit number. The watch tells you what the number is, and you type it on the phone. If you're not a confident touch-screen typist, and you don't have an alternate input device (I'd call that a keyboard, really) then you'll just have to do this a bunch of times until you get it right. The watch and phone are infinitely patient, though. Count on them not to use the same tone of voice with you that you're likely using with them after the fifth try... The 6-digit number will be different each time, so you'll get a lot of typing practice, and eventually you'll either get good at it or you'll get an easy-to-remember and easy-to-type combo.

Steps for Pairing

1. Start the Apple Watch app on your phone. Don't have it? Upgrade your phone, the app will magically appear.

2. Pick the options until you get to the one for pairing your watch.

3. This option will invite you to align a camera view of the watch in the viewfinder visually. Don't despair, there is a button to allow you to pair manually. Pick that.

4. Now follow the prompts on both the watch and the phone. They need to be in agreement that pairing is being attempted. The watch will tell you what its temporary name is, and you'll pick that on the phone. If you're only in the vicinity of one watch, this is not challenging.

Once the phone and the watch have found each other and you've agreed that this is the watch with which you're pairing, you'll get the six-digit code on the watch and type that into the phone. You have a very short time to do it.

If Apple wants feedback on this step, I'd love to have a longer time to do the typing, and love it even more if the code were shorter. Love it yet more if it would stay the same so I could just keep trying it, without having to get the watch to read it each time, while trying to type it on the other device. OK, I'm looking for those improvements in the next version.

Got the code typed in? Do a happy dance. Now, you're really done if you just want to go play with your new gadget. If you'd like to do things like make the screen more visible or the voice louder or faster, stick with me. And, after you play with it for a bit and want some tips, come back.

Accessibility Settings

You can set a few accessibility items on the watch itself, under "settings." But, for this first pass, you'll be happier on your phone, because you have a lot more options, and you'll be in familiar navigation territory.

On the iPhone, go back to the Apple Watch app.

Pick "My Watch."

Pick "General."

Pick "Accessibility" (this should be sounding familiar).

Pick "VoiceOver."

Turn it on.

While there, set the volume and rate.

Experiment with "Speak on Wrist Raise." When it's on, every time you raise your wrist, the watch wakes up and talks. Could be useful. I thought it was too much jabbering.

You can back out of the VoiceOver option and set grayscale and other options as well. I stopped with the VoiceOver options.

Also under "Accessibility" (back out of "VoiceOver" if you haven't already), pick "Accessibility Shortcut" and set it to "VoiceOver," or whichever you prefer. This is where you determine that triple-tapping the screen (crown) will start the feature of your choice.

Go play with your watch!

Glances: A Quick Navigation Tool

Here is a navigation tip that will save you some ramp-up time. How do you find out certain basic things, like the battery level on your watch, the current temperature, etc. These are things the watch ought to be able to tell you, and if you flounder around long enough you'll discover them.

The watch has a concept called "Glances," which lets you navigate among the quick-info items you have on it. You can pick what shows up under Glances in the app on the iPhone, and you might want to throw away some things you don't think you want and add some things that are important to you.

But, then, you need to get to them on the watch. Here are some steps (I love steps, hope you do, too).

Wake up the watch by pressing that familiar flattish button, or by raising your wrist if that's turned on.

The watch will announce the time, unless you've changed it to show something else.

Swipe down. The watch will say "Glances." Double-tap. That selects "Glances." The watch will announce one of the Glances. Mine says "Activity."

You can swipe left and right to explore that item. This is just the way you do it on the phone, so it'll seem very intuitive.

Swipe down or up to get options to move to previous and next Glances. Double-tap on the one you want. The Glances are in the same order each time, determined by what you do in the app on your phone, so you can learn their order, and put your favorites at the top.

Anytime you're done with one Glance and want to continue, just keep choosing Glances in the same direction. That is, if I start on "Activity" and want to get to the battery level, I pick "Previous Glance" once, and then double-tap to select it.

Talking to Your Watch

Want to use Siri? Of course you do, why else did you buy the Apple Watch? Press the bigger of the two buttons, the one you can turn, for about two seconds and release it. You'll feel a slight tap on your wrist. That signals that Siri is listening. If you didn't plan anything to say, say "play music."

You'll get another tap on the wrist to let you know Siri is done listening, and music will start playing from your phone. Activate Siri again and say "stop" when you've heard enough.

Of course, you can do a lot with Siri, and other sites have long lists of suggestions. Your watch knows all the people your phone knows, so you can say "Text Liz I'm headed out for lunch now," if you have the ability to text someone named Liz and she cares when you go for lunch. The watch will activate the messages app, select the recipient, and fill in the message. You can look it over by swiping left and right, then hit the send button by double-tapping.

Accessibility of the Apple Watch Setup Process

We've all had the disappointing experience (lots of them, speaking for myself) where a product is supposed to be accessible, but, the setup is not included among the accessibility features. How many times have you heard, "They can get somebody to do the setup for them"? I'm not sure, I think I might be the "they," and I don't know who the "somebody" might be. If I can't get most things done myself, I likely can't get them done. I'm delighted that the Apple Watch turns out to have the same fantastic attention to accessibility detail given to it that the other Apple products have had.

Nice job, Apple!

(Now, back to that list of improvements I'm compiling...)

Don't forget to check in on AccessWorld for all your technology-information needs!


Helen Keller: A Childhood Memory

Helen Keller reading a braille book with her left hand and signing the shape of a letter with her right. At the Perkins School for the Blind, 1888

Before there was Anne Sullivan Macy, there was Helen Keller’s mother: Kate Adams Keller. This sensitive and intelligent woman fought to find help for her young deaf and blind daughter when her child was an infant. Helen always spoke fondly of her mother’s intelligence and determination and corresponded with her mother continuously once she left Alabama and lived in Massachusetts.

On Mother’s Day we honor Kate Keller for her tenacity and love. In Helen Keller’s autobiography, Helen relates an early childhood memory of being with her mother. It’s evocative and lovely. Happy Mother’s Day!

"They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bath-tub and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother’s lap and almost ran toward them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms. "

Excerpted from The Story of My Life, 1902

Image: Helen Keller reading a book with her left hand and making the shape of a letter with her right hand. She is at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, 1888.

Arts and Leisure
Helen Keller

"I have great joy in the tulips...": A Helen Keller Quote in Honor of Earth Day

Helen Keller holding a flower in her garden

Helen Keller in the garden of her home, Forest Hills, New York, circa 1920

“I have great joy in the tulips and lilacs
which make my garden ‘look like the waking
of Creation.’ O the potent witchery of smell!
Leaves opening delicately on tree and rambler
and rose-bush tell me God has passed this way,
and I forget the disturbing nearness of the city
in the eternal miracle of a tiny garden
great with wonders.”

—Letter to Waldo Mac Eagar of the British Empire Society of the Blind
May 13, 1933

Recommended Links

Sign up for e-mail alerts from AFB whenever new content is added to the site, for the interest categories of your choice.