Thursday, October 8, 2009

Helen Keller Honored

One of the ironies of life on this mortal coil is that heroes are flawed. This week Helen Keller became the first person with a disability to be honored with a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda during which a statue bearing her likeness was unveiled. It’s the first statue in the Capitol showing a person with a disability.

She might have been the most highly visible person with a disability in the United States early in the 20th century, doing much by her accomplishments that disability can be irrelevant to a life lived in full. Oddly, though, Keller had a Peter Singer-like utilitarian approach to some elements of disability.

From Exceptional Family, Canada's Resource Magazine for Parents of Exceptional Children.

Among those high-profile supporters cited by Dowbiggin were utilitarian philosopher Robert G. Ingersoll, biologist and early eugenics heavyweight Charles Davenport, Food and Drug Administrator Harvey Wiley and Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League which eventually became Planned Parenthood. Other supporters were Helen Keller and civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow, who advocated in 1915 that it was just to "chloroform unfit children . . . [and] show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live."

In this discussion it is perhaps interested to remember that Keller wasn't born "unfit." It is believed she lost her sight and hearing in early childhood as a result of Scarlet fever.

Here is a link to the ceremony honoring Keller.

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