Tuesday, October 19 at 8:00pm
American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller examines one of the 20th century’s human rights pioneers in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The new documentary rediscovers the complex life and legacy of author and activist Helen Keller (1880-1968), who was deaf and blind since childhood, exploring how she used her celebrity and wit to advocate for social justice, particularly for women, workers, people with disabilities and people living in poverty. American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller premieres nationwide Tuesday, October 19 at 9 p.m. on APT, http://pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app.
American Masters tells Keller’s story through rarely seen photographs, archival film clips and interviews with historians, scholars and disability rights advocates. Narrated by author, psychotherapist and disability rights advocate Rebecca Alexander, the film features on-camera performances from Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Cherry Jones reading Keller’s writings. Actor and dancer Alexandria Wailes provides American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation of Keller’s words with all other ASL interpretation by writer and rapper Warren “WAWA” Snipe. The program also features audio description by National Captioning Institute and closed captioning by VITAC.
Keller first came into public view at a young age, soon after her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her to communicate. As she progressed through her education, graduating from Radcliffe College, Keller steadily gained international attention. Though she lived until age 87, became an accomplished writer and activist, Keller continues to be immortalized as a child, such as in the U.S. Capitol with the statue of her at a water pump. She recounted this moment from her youth in her first autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” later made famous by the book’s stage and screen adaptation, “The Miracle Worker.” American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller delves beyond the mythologized disability icon to present a critical look at her rich, decades-long career and some of its controversies, including her support of socialism and her changing positions on eugenics. The film reveals little-known details of Keller’s personal life and examines her public persona and advocacy, including the progressive reforms she helped achieve. Speaking out for civil rights at great personal cost, Keller supported women’s suffrage, the NAACP, access to health care and assistive technology as a human right, and workers’ rights as a member of the Socialist Party of America and the labor union Industrial Workers of the World.
American Masters is committed to access for the documentary. The series website will have an accessible landing page for the film, including tools for changing color contrast and text size. An additional version of the film with extended audio description will also be available to stream. Marketing efforts for Becoming Helen Keller also integrate ASL, audio description and captions.
“We are excited to bring this new look at Helen Keller’s life and legacy to people all across Alabama, most of whom have grown up with the story of the water pump at Ivy Green,” says APT interim executive director Phil Hutcheson. “And we have taken this opportunity to further advance our long-time efforts to increase the accessibility of our programs and services on-air, online, and in social media.”
Alabama Public Television and seven other stations worked with The WNET Group’s Community Engagement department to expand the film’s impact, producing new accessible content for broadcast and digital platforms. APT created an advisory board on disability issues including representatives of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, The Alabama Federation of the Blind, the Helen Keller Birthplace, the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at UAB, Lakeshore Rehabilitation Center and others, to help inform our efforts. The board was instrumental in steering the creation of local content, including both short-form videos and special segments on APT series covering disability issues in Alabama.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)-compliant educational resources for grades 6-12, created by The WNET Group’s Kids’ Media and Education department in partnership with disability experts, will be available via PBS LearningMedia. Teachers throughout Alabama use PBS LearningMedia resources in classroom instruction. APT also created training resources for educators. Along with the Lakeshore Foundation, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and Trussville City Schools, APT created and delivered a three-part webinar series on accessibility designed to assist teachers and school administrators.
PBS led the world in the creation of closed captioning and descriptive audio to serve those with a loss of hearing or sight, and PBS and Alabama Public Television are committed to improving learning experiences of everyone.