Helen Keller: Advocate and Visionary
"Little did I dream, when I took
up work for the blind forty-four
years ago that they would
advance as far towards new
frontiers of endeavor as they
have today. It is a wonder-tale
how patient research has contrived
a host of instruments to
liberate the blind."
Early in her life, Helen Keller realized that the expansion of opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired goes hand-in-hand with the advancement of technology. In fact, one of greatest technologists of her time, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was responsible for introducing Anne Sullivan Macy to the Keller family. Keller's intimate friendship with Bell and subsequent serious interest in technological developments made her acutely aware of the role technology could play in helping people who are blind or deaf-blind connect with other people and the world outside.
Besides making use of the braille writer, the radio, and many other devices herself, Keller—who devoted over 40 years of her life to AFB as its ambassador—was instrumental in getting new inventions into the hands of people with visual impairments. In the 1920s she convinced the Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company, one of the leading producers of radios at the time, to distribute radios free to people who were blind. She ensured that people with visual impairments had access to early Dictaphones, so they could be better equipped in the office. Keller also urged many companies to develop accessible products, and she was a strong proponent and lobbyist for the Talking Books program and record player.
Keller would have applauded AFB's current efforts to foster important advances in technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. From helping to make cell phones and voting machines accessible to being a leader for web accessibility to training technologists to teach others how to use accessible technology, AFB is committed to remaining at the forefront of technological advancement. No doubt, Keller would have been thrilled with these remarkable achievements and, like us, would be anticipating even more advances in the future.
Helen Keller's Autobiography Published on the Web
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Story of My Life, Helen Keller's moving autobiography, AFB has made the original text available free online. First appearing in 1903 to critical acclaim, the most popular of Keller's works remains a widely read classic of American literature. The fully accessible online version is accompanied by historic photographs from AFB's Helen Keller Archives and interesting facts about the book and Keller.
Preserving the Legacy
AFB has completed archival categorization and preservation of its Helen Keller Archive, the largest collection of Keller's writings and artifacts in the world. Aside from refurbishing the physical space of the archive itself, all documents and photos have been processed and sealed in mylar, a chemically inert plastic that prevents deterioration. In addition, AFB's extensive rare book collection has been sent to conservators to be rebound and treated for preservation. During the re-categorization, more documents—relating to the work and activities of Keller later in life, in particular—have surfaced that could better inform the historical record. Several researchers have already taken advantage of the newly organized archives. All of the archival documents and folders of photos have been entered into a specialized archival database, which will be made available to the researchers and the general public on the web. In addition, Keller's biographical section on AFB's web site has been rewritten and expanded.
Interest in Helen Keller's life and trailblazing work remains widespread to this day.