by iampunha | 6/27/2008 08:00:00 AM
In the early 1960s, President Kennedy and Congress began a lot of work to improve the status of special education in America.

Much has been written on the influence of Rosemary Kennedy on her brother and his education initiatives, especially for children with disabilities.

But inarguably the poster child for this effort — for educating children with disabilities, not just putting them in dark rooms to languish — was no child.

In 1960, she was 80. And as a child, she was educated. She later wrote books, read plenty and appeared in three movies.

And if the nationally recognized social advocate had gone to the premier of any of those movies, she would have been sitting in the dark. Literally.

On June 27, 1880, America's most famous blind and deaf woman, Helen Keller, was born.

For Stonewall.

And to the victims of AIDS, and to their families.

Get tested.

This entry features another meeting of the minds: Helen Keller possibly doesn't become blind and deaf at 18 months old if she is administered penicillin.

But if sight and hearing are not taken from her, we miss out on 16-year-old Patty Duke and 31-year-old Anne Bancroft committing to their roles so fiercely:

During the filming of The Miracle Worker (1962), both Bancroft and Duke became so immersed in their roles, they put their health at risk. For the famous dining room battle scene, which required three cameras for a nine-minute sequence and took five days to film, both actresses wore pads beneath their clothing. At one point during the filming, Bancroft started laughing from sheer exhaustion and her reaction was left in the film. In fact, Bancroft was hospitalized with pneumonia just after filming was complete. As for Duke, she later admitted she dreaded the final wrap-up of the film because it meant her final separation from a role that had become such an important part of her life.

It got worse:

For the actors in the 1959 play, The Miracle Worker was both emotionally and physically taxing. Duke, who had practiced her part with her eyes closed, was told that she would have to act the part of Helen with her eyes wide open and a fixed stare. The climax was the unforgettable fight scene in the second act, when Annie Sullivan refused to be manipulated by one of the manipulative Helen's dinnertime temper tantrums. The melee, in which teacher and pupil pulled each other's hair and threw chairs and water at one another, lasted for a full 10 minutes and was intricately choreographed. Special techniques had to be used to protect the actors from injury—the prepubescent Patty Duke wore shin guards, knee guards, and hip guards, as well as a chest protector to shield her developing breasts. To prevent them from slipping, Duke and Bancroft wore special rubber soles on their shoes. Despite these precautions, Patty Duke developed blood blisters from the spoons that Annie kept shoving into her hand ...

Helen Keller would not have us feeling sorry for her, would not have us focus on what changed her life before her second birthday to make enjoying this entry extraordinarily difficult:

People who knew Keller underlined her good sense of humor and imagination. They also noted that she was not an ethereal, virginal figure from some Renaissance painting, but a tall, dark, beautiful woman, who had a great sense of humor. "I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad," she once remarked.

What would she have us look at, then?

Oh, social inequality, reason, trivialities like that:

I asked that Miss Keller relate the steps by which she turned into the uncompromising radical who now faces the world as Helen Keller, not the sweet sentimentalist of woman's magazine days.

"I was religious to start with," she began in enthusiastic acquiescence to my request. "I had thought blindness a misfortune."

"Then I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions among the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to the life of shame that ended in blindness.

"Then I read H.G. Wells' Old Worlds for New, summaries of Karl Marx's philosophy and his [manifestos]. It seemed as if I had been asleep and waked to a new world--a world so different from the beautiful world I had lived in.

"For a time I was depressed"--her voice saddened in reminiscence--"but little by little my confidence came back and I realized that the wonder is not that conditions are so bad, but that humanity has advanced so far in spite of them. And now I am in the fight to change things. I may be a dreamer, but dreamers are necessary to make facts!" her voice almost shrilled in its triumph, and her hand found and clutched my knee in vivrant emphasis.


Women insist on their "divine rights," "immutable rights," "inalienable rights." These phrases are not so sensible as one might wish. When one comes to think of it, there are no such things as divine, immutable or inalienable rights. Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim to them. Men spent hundreds of years and did much hard fighting to get the rights they now call divine, immutable and inalienable. Today women are demanding rights that tomorrow nobody will be foolhardy enough to question.
When women vote men will no longer be compelled to guess at their desires--and guess wrong. Women will be able to protect themselves from man-made laws that are antagonistic to their interests. Some persons like to imagine that man's chivalrous nature will constrain him to act humanely toward woman and protect her rights. Some men do protect some women. We demand that all women have the right to protect themselves and relieve man of this feudal responsibility.

Political power shapes the affairs of state and determines many of the every-day relations of human beings with one another. The citizen with a vote is master of his own destiny. Women without this power, and who do not happen to have "natural protectors," are at the mercy of man-made laws. And experience shows that these laws are often unjust to them. Legislation made to protect women who have fathers and husbands to care for them does not protect working women whose only defenders are the state's policemen.

The wages of women in some states belong to their fathers or their husbands. They cannot hold property. In parts of this enlightened democracy of men the father is the sole owner of the child. I believe he can even will away the unborn babies. Legislation concerning the age of consent is another proof that the voice of woman is mute in the halls of the lawmakers. The regulations affecting laboring women are a proof that men are too busy to protect their "natural wards."

Poverty and pollution:

I have visited sweatshops, factories, crowded slums of New York and Washington. Of course I could not see the squalor; but if I could not see it, I could smell it.

With my own hands I could feel pinched, dwarfed children tending their younger brothers and sisters, while their mothers tended machines in nearby factories.
The structure of a society built upon such wrong basic principles [as individualism, conquest and exploitation] is bound to retard the development of all men, even the most [successful ones] because it tends to divert man's energies into useless channels and to degrade his character. The result is a false standard of values. Trade and material prosperity are held to be the main objects of pursuit and conquest, the lowest instincts in human nature — love of gain, cunning and selfishness — are fostered.

The output of a cotton mill or a coal mine is considered of greater importance than the production of healthy, happy-hearted, free human beings.


Yet, everywhere, we hear fear advanced as argument for armament. It reminds me of a fable I read. A certain man found a horseshoe. His neighbor began to weep and wail because, as he justly pointed out, the man who found the horseshoe might someday find a horse. Having found the shoe, he might shoe him. The neighbor's child might some day go so near the horse's hells as to be kicked, and die. Undoubtedly the two families would quarrel and fight, and several valuable lives would be lost through the finding of the horseshoe. You know the last war we had we quite accidentally picked up some islands in the Pacific Ocean which may some day be the cause of a quarrel between ourselves and Japan. I'd rather drop those islands right now and [forget] about them than go to war to keep them. Wouldn't you?

Congress is not preparing to defend the people of the United States. It is planning to protect the capital of American speculators and investors in Mexico, South America, China, and [the] Philippine Islands. Incidentally this preparation will benefit the manufacturers of munitions and war machines.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

All of this, as I indicated above, might well have turned out differently had Helen Keller's family had access to penicillin. We still do not concretely know what she had, but we can make educated guesses, and the subjects of those guesses can be treated.

I know this because one of my sisters had scarlet fever when she was 10 months old, nine months younger than Keller was when she was stricken.

She had a rash on her chest. A flat, purple rash.

My father took her to our family doctor, who asked, nonchalantly, "Has she been around anyone sick?"

Dr. Mackintosh was never nonchalant. He was cute or funny or a troublemaker or gently serious.

My father said he didn't know.

Dr. Mackintosh handed him a prescription for penicillin. Not amoxicillin nor ampicillin, but penicillin. (The first two are synthetic derivatives of the third.)

Penicillin is like giving a Johnny Mize-sized baseball bat to Johnny Mize (back in the day), removing the umpire and telling Johnny to wait for a pitch he likes.

"She has scarlet fever," Dr. Mackintosh said, "so give her this. She can still go around, but let other people know."

We do not know, and we will blissfully happily never know, what would have happened if we had not had penicillin for my sister. But I would not put a lot of money on tomorrow's entry being so shiny and happy.

These, the quoted words of Helen Keller, come from no cripple. Oh, sure, disabled, but not significantly handicapped. Her mind is as sharp, her words as assertive, her spirit as engaging and her heart as strong as any who'd care to match wits with her. So as you go about your business today, bear these words in mind:

To begin with, I have a word to say to my good friends, the editors, and others who are moved to pity me. Some people are grieved because they imagine I am in the hands of unscrupulous persons who lead me astray and persuade me to espouse [unpopular] causes and make me the mouthpiece of their propaganda. Now, let it be understood once and for all that I do not want their pity; I would not change places [with one] of them. I know what I am talking about. My sources of information are as good and reliable as anybody else's. I have papers and magazines from England, France, Germany and Austria that I can read myself. Not all the editors I have met can do that. Quite a number of them have to take their French and German second hand. No, I will not disparage the editors. They are an overworked, misunderstood class. Let them remember, though, that if I cannot see the fire at the end of their cigarettes, neither can they thread a needle in the dark. All I ask, gentlemen, is a fair field and no favor. I have entered the fight against preparedness and against the economic system under which we live. It is to be a fight to the finish, and I ask no quarter.

Do not pity people with disabilities, and not look past them, and they will not steamroll you in public as you underestimate them.



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Anonymous Anonymous on 2/28/2010 4:04 AM:

u r an idiot mr jeremy stupid young... wth do u think u r? a freak?