Helen Keller had spoken to many state legislatures, but this was her first appearance in Congress. She was there to support a federally-financed program to create Braille books for blind adults.
“Books are the eyes of the blind,” she told the legislators. And she asked them to close their eyes and, for a few moments, imagine the world of the blind.
Keller was already a world-famous speaker and writer. She lectured and lobbied around the world for people who were blind or deaf — or like her, both. She spoke for women’s rights and workers’ rights, against child labor and war.
It would take another year of Congressional wrangling before President Herbert Hoover signed the Pratt-Smoot Act authorizing the Library of Congress to create and circulate Braille books to adults with vision loss — later known as the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled.
“Books are the Eyes of the Blind”
March 27, 1930 — Committee on the Library, US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman, and friends, the bill which you have under consideration to-day, asks for an appropriation to supply Braille books to a class of persons who, through no fault of their own, are unable to read regular print. I hope the bill passes. Giving the blind worth-while books is a practical way of helping them to overcome their handicap. Indeed, it is far more than a practical measure; it partakes of the nature of a boon.
Books are the eyes of the blind. They reveal to us the glories of the light-filled world, they keep us in touch with what people are thinking and doing, they help us to forget our limitations. With our hands plunged into an interesting book, we feel independent and happy.
Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like not to see? Close your eyes for a moment.
Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like not to see? Close your eyes for a moment. This room, the faces you have been looking at — where are they? Go to the window keeping your eyes shut. Everything out there is a blank — the street, the sky, the sun itself! Try to find your way back to your seat. Can you picture who is sitting in that chair, day in and day out, always in the dark gazing back of you? What you would not give to be able to read again! Wouldn’t you give anything In the world for something to make you forget your misfortune for one hour? This bill affords you an opportunity to bestow this consolation upon thousands of blind men and women in the United States.
When you closed your eyes just now you were assuming the sable livery of the blind, knowing all the time how quickly you could fling it aside. You felt no heavier burden than a grateful sigh that your blindness was a mummery. We who face the reality know we cannot escape the shadow while life lasts. I ask you to show your gratitude to God for your sight by voting for this bill.
I thank you.
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