Celebrating American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller

A black and white photo of Helen Keller wearing a dark wide-brimmed hat and a fur stoal, next to the symbols for Closed Captioning, Audio Description, and Sign Language.

While most coverage of Helen Keller freezes her as the “eternal child” in that “aha” moment at the water pump with teacher Anne Sullivan (immortalized in The Miracle Worker), this new documentary American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller shatters that disability myth, transcends that image, takes back the narrative, and unlocks multifaceted aspects of her life and commitment to social justice, disability rights, veterans with disabilities, women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, early support of the NAACP and ACLU, her involvement with setting up State Commissions for the Blind, “talking books,” and her work as an international goodwill ambassador … to name a few.

This dynamic documentary features little-known aspects of Keller’s social justice activism and includes captions, audio description, extended audio description, ASL interpreters, Deaf performers Alexandria Wailes and Warren “Wawa” Snipe), and descriptive transcript so DeafBlind audiences can experience this film independently. The film is narrated by Rebecca Alexander, author, psychotherapist and disability rights advocate, who herself is DeafBlind, with disability scholars and Brian Miller, who passed away in early 2020 and worked at the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education.

As we look forward to the 46th anniversary of IDEA on November 29th, we reflect on the importance of education and employment of people with disabilities are the cornerstone of independent living, leading to success in the classroom, boardroom, workplace, marketplace and communities across the nation and around the world. To mark the 46th anniversary of IDEA, American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller is available to stream through November 30th. The film can be viewed on http://pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app.

To celebrate the complexity of Helen Keller and impact of her work we are presenting “themed” screenings with Q&A of American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller — with CART and ASL:

11/15 | Higher Education and Disability Studies

Society for Disability Studies (SDS) and Lights! Camera! Access! (LCA) Career Exploration/Incubator Initiative host Co-Presidents Karen Nakamura and Joseph Stramondo; Professor Beth Haller, Dept. of Mass Communication and Applied Adult Disability Studies minor at Towson University. Q&A will be emceed by comedian, professional speaker, and author Nina G.

11/17 | Veterans with Disabilities

In collaboration with LCA, meet veterans with disabilities working in media with comments by Billy W. Wright, National Employment Coordinator; Department of Veterans Affairs/Central Office; Veteran Readiness and Employment Services.

11/18 | National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC) / Partners for Youth with Disabilities

This event is open to anyone interested in learning more about disability history, social justice, and Helen Keller’s contributions to disability rights advocacy. The NDMC will also be distributing a discussion guide for mentors and mentees as a part of this event.

11/20 | Accessible Media

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and LCA co-host Thomas Reid, audio describer and Producer of Reid My Mind; and AFB President/CEO, Kirk Adams. AFB oversees the Helen Keller Archive, world’s largest repository of materials about and by Helen Keller, including correspondences, speeches, press clippings, scrapbooks, photographs, photograph albums, architectural drawings, audio recordings, audio-visual materials, and artifacts.

11/29 | International Disability Issues

As we ramp up to the December 3rd International Day of Persons with Disabilities, this screening/Q&A hosted by the World Institute on Disability (WID) and LCA will focus on Helen Keller as international Goodwill Ambassador, including her 1948 visit to Nagasaki and other cities and countries. For information contact: lights.camera.access.info@gmail.com

11/30 | Los Angeles Department on Disability/ReelAbilities Film Festival Los Angeles (RAFFLA)

Owning the disability narrative is critical if we are to shatter negative media myths that preclude full participation in the workplace, marketplace and communities across the nation and around the world. Join LA Department on Disability, RAFFLA and LCA for this important discussion. For information contact: lights.camera.access.info@gmail.com

We welcome you on this rare cinematic journey with American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller.

Guest blog by Tari Hartman Squire, Lights! Camera! Access!

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.


  1. I’m so pleased so see so many screenings for this important documentary! It’s so sad how so many people believe that Helen Keller is a mere myth. I hope these events highlight the need to teach disability history in schools!

  2. Thanks for sharing this important documentary plus Q&A events to educate about the real Helen Keller; to shatters the myth of the “eternal child,” to illuminates her complexities and commitments to education and employment of people with disabilities; and her work toward social justice. Lead On!

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