When Helen was six, her mother contacted Dr. Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), whom she had heard was working on devices to help the deaf. Bell met with Helen and her parents and suggested that they contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. In March 1887 Anne Sullivan (1866–1936), a teacher at the institute, came to serve as Helen's teacher. Anne was twenty-one years old and had sight limitations of her own. One month after her arrival, Sullivan had taught Keller the word "water." She did this by using her fingers to spell letters into Helen's hand. From this she understood that objects had names, and that her teacher spelled these names into her hand. This unlocked a whole new world of learning for Helen.
Anne Sullivan was with Helen day and night, constantly spelling into her hand the words and ideas of things going on around them. Helen was a quick learner. In only three years she learned the manual alphabet (sign language), the Braille alphabet (an alphabet created by Louis Braille [1809–1852] for the blind that relies on raised dots to communicate), and she could read and write.