In 1882, however, Keller contracted an illness called “brain fever” by the family doctor. It is probably what today’s doctors would describe as “ acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”, which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. She was just 18 months old.
Even by today’s standard, the true nature of the illness remains a mystery. Determined to communicate with others as conventionally as possible, Keller learned to speak, and spent much of her life giving speeches and lectures. She learned to “hear” people’s speech by reading their lips with her hands — her sense of touch had become extremely subtle. She became proficient at using the Braille and reading sign language with her hands as well.
With assistance from care givers, by the age of seven, Keller had had over 60 home signs. Her impossible journey from a child unable to communicate due to her multiple disabilities to her exalted place on the world stage as the famous global citizen is one of the greatest happenings of the 20th century. She has the record of being the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Her inspiration has given sight to many around the world. Ask Dr. Tunji Abayomi the human rights lawyer how the blind late Ghali Ikhilama of the Ahmadu Bello University ‘showed’ him his way to Ohio University. Talk about the blind leading the eagle-eyed!
Nigerians who think they are physically able-bodied lack the mental kindness, the sincerity of purpose and humanness to pilot our affairs. The government’s blindness to the plight of people with disabilities is condemnable. These sisters and brothers of ours are treated worse than slaves without the rights and privileges enshrined in our statute books, except as objects of pity, charity and welfare.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 19 million Nigerians or (approximately 20% of the country’s population) have one form of disability or the other. This population is too large to be excluded. Nature that abhors a vacuum always compensates with intelligence when one loses a member. And the precarious health, road and general environment of Nigeria could make anybody, no matter how highly placed, to go deaf, dumb, leprous or suffer paralysis.