Helen Keller, the activist, writer and lecturer left blind and deaf by childhood illness, graces the side of a new "Alabama" quarter -- her image stamped alongside her name written in Braille -- issued by the U.S. Mint last week.

It is the first coin in circulation to feature Braille. But while the lettering is raised, it is probably too small for anyone to read, said Becky Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Mint.

"It's more symbolic -- in a way to honor Helen Keller," Bailey said of the Braille.

The coin, one in a series of state-themed quarters the Mint has issued, features Keller sitting in a chair, reading a book by touch, between shafts of long-leaf pine and magnolia flowers. Beneath her, a banner reads, "Spirit of Courage."

Keller was born in Tuscumbia, a small town in northwestern Alabama. An illness robbed her of her sight and hearing when she was a toddler. Keller nevertheless learned to read and speak and graduated from Radcliffe College. She went on to become a well-known activist for the disabled, a writer who associated with Mark Twain and an inspiration to thousands who marveled at her achievements. The story of Keller as a wild child unable to communicate but eventually reached and taught by Anne Sullivan became widely known through "The Miracle Worker" production on television, stage and film.

The coin is the 22nd state quarter the Mint has issued since it began the series in 1999. The design won out over thousands of proposals submitted to a contest sponsored by Alabama's former governor Don Siegelman (D). The Mint issued the coin last week, offering it for sale on its Web site and formally launching the coin today. But Bailey said several more weeks of circulation likely will be needed before area residents can begin to find the coin in their pockets.

The "Alabama" quarter features Helen Keller, who was a native of the state.