National News

Holiday Cheer for The Visually Impaired

Posted December 22, 2007 11:32 p.m. EST
Updated December 23, 2007 4:02 p.m. EST

— Blind and visually impaired people can enjoy holiday entertainment on TV thanks to descriptive narrations of the events arranged by a program called "Eyes of Christmas."

Reaching more than 80 million homes on a variety of cable networks and independent television stations, the program features dozens of celebrities presenting holiday music, memories and films over the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

By pushing the SAP button on a television remote control, visually impaired people will be able to listen to a descriptive narration of what is being shown on the screen.

Besides entertaining, the "Eyes of Christmas" raises awareness and funds for RP International, a nonprofit organization that battles degenerative eye diseases including retinitis pigmentosa, which causes tunnel vision and sometimes blindness.

It's all the brainchild of Helen Harris, a 70-year-old artist living in the San Fernando Valley who is blind because of RP. She founded RP International in 1972 when she discovered two of her sons also had the disease.

Harris has enlisted the support of an "A list" of celebrities from entertainment, sports and politics. Among those participating this year are Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, Garth Brooks and former President George H.W. Bush.

Harris called the celebrity participation "unbelievable" and said that when she started RP International 35 years ago, she did not have any connections in Hollywood.

"I started by knocking on doors and handwriting letters to one celebrity at a time," she recalled. "And Charlton Heston called me back."

She recalled Heston saying, "What is this retinitis pigmentosa?"

"I said 'I'm not sure myself. I just found out that I and my kids have it.'"

Heston helped her organize her first event, Harris said, and he still contributes to the "Eyes of Christmas" telecast.

Said Harris: "It's been a long journey."