Helen Keller: A human rights influence

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Helen Keller believed that the poorest and most vulnerable among us deserve lives of dignity and the opportunities to fulfill their own potentials. “The welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all,” she said.

From an early age, Keller was outspoken and forthright in her commitment to improving the lives of people. While studying at Perkins School for the Blind, she initiated fundraising campaigns for a Perkins kindergarten for the blind.

She viewed writing as a vehicle through which to communicate the importance of helping to improve the lives of others, and published numerous books and essays about her life and her views.

With her teacher Miss Sullivan at her side, she lectured on important social issues, even briefly joining the vaudeville circuit to showcase her wit and political views. She was a member of the socialist party, advocated women’s suffrage, protested U.S. involvement in World War I. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union. The Helen Keller Archives maintained by the American Foundation for the Blind contain over 475 speeches and essays on topics ranging from faith, blindness prevention, birth control and the rise of fascism in Europe.

However, her chief focus was to advocate for the visually impaired. She was an early supporter of the British, French and Belgian Permanent Blind Relief War Fund, helping to co-found it in 1915 with George Kessler. She joined the American Foundation for the Blind in 1921 and supported their fundraising efforts. In 1925, in an address to the Lions Club International convention, Keller challenges members to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness,” a commitment the organization has maintained to this day. After World War II, she visited veteran’s hospitals and assisted in the formation of a special service for deafblind persons.

Keller’s interest and ability to shape global policy on vision loss made her an effective ambassador. 1955, a 75-year-old Helen Keller embarked on a long journey. Over five months, and 40,000 miles, she toured through Asia, bringing hope and comfort to millions of people who were blind, helping along the way to improve conditions around the world for people with vision loss.

In 1977, the organization which began as a war relief fund for Allied soldiers adopted the name of Helen Keller International to recognize her contributions in helping not only the blind, but also those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged.  While the work of the organization has evolved with the changing global landscape, Helen Keller International’s values still remain firmly rooted in the notion that it is essential to help the world’s vulnerable by providing them tools and resources so that they may help themselves.

Today, Helen Keller International works in 22 countries and has more than 180 programs. We save and improve the sight and lives of the world’s vulnerable and disadvantaged by combating the causes and consequences of blindness, poor health and malnutrition, reaching millions each year.