I just found this transcript of a speech made by Dana to the national Federation for the Blind.
It has some interesting little insights.
I've posted some of the speech here. You can read the whole speech hereCopyright © 1995 by the National Federation of the Blind."
I will very briefly tell you my experience. When I began to lose my eyesight, I was on the show McGyver. We were on our fourth year. The cause was glaucoma. Progressively it was getting worse and worse. I finally had to go to Steve Downing, who was the executive producer and the creative writer at that time, and say, "Steve, I think we're going to have to do something. We have to make Pete Thornton have the same qualities, the same visual abilities that I have, or we're going to run into trouble. I can no longer jump out of helicopters. I can't run down hill at night at a fast pace over logs. It simply will not work."
So we discussed this, and he thought about it and called me back the next day, and he said, "You know what? This is perfectly natural. Let's do it."
So they began to write into the character of Pete Thornton a man who had glaucoma and was losing his vision. I want to tell you how proud I am of them for doing that.
It came as somewhat of a surprise--not truly a surprise, but I was a little tentative about bringing up the subject. I was talking to my daughter, who lives in New York. She is becoming an actress. She also works in a restaurant. She does lots of things. She's now a script supervisor for a television show. She's making her way, and she said, "Dad, there's only one thing you can do. Talk to them and say that you have to be together, that Pete Thornton and Dana Elcar have to have the same visual abilities." And I'm grateful to her for giving me the strength to do that. On the other hand, you hear a lot of things about Hollywood, about how hard it is, how cold it is, how mean it is. And yet there were people there who immediately responded and said, "Of course. That's the obvious thing we have to do. We want you on the program--you are good for the program. The fact that you are losing your eyesight does not mean that you have forgotten how to act."
So we did that and I am eternally grateful to them. We are at the end of our sixth year. We are on hiatus, and we are starting our seventh year of the show McGyver. We have just concluded a contract agreement with me to proceed into the seventh year. Believe it or not. I don't know how many people have gone before, but I think I am one of the few people who have ever played a blind person on television and have been blind. I may even attempt to play some people who are not blind. And the people whom I am currently working with are willing to make that experiment with me. They want to encourage me. I want to tell you that there are good people out there. There in support of us.
I want to tell you quickly a little bit about the other things that I do. I am also the artistic director of a small theater in Santa Paula, California. It is small, but it has very high standards. It's a professional-standard theater. My wife is the general manager and publicist. She does a lot of work. We all work together. It's a semi-amateur theater, but it has professional standards. When I began to lose my vision, I thought, "This is going to be another problem. How am I going to do this? I can't even see the stage. How can I possibly choose plays and choose directors and choose designers and then go and judge whether the work is good enough and proceed as the artistic director of this theater?"
Well, you know, I chose to see if I could do it. And you want to know something? I'm still doing it. From time to time I say to my sighted friends, "Listen. Does that look like I think it looks?" And they either say "Yes" and I say "Great" or they say "No, that's not right." And then I will get up and yell and say, "Hey, wait a minute! This is not working here." And I am the final buck. You understand?
That has been a great thing for me. One of the things that happened for me in this experience which I think was pivotally important was that I didn't stop doing what I was doing. The people who run Paramount Pictures, the people who are ABC, the people who run the Show McGyver, my own instincts, my daughter's encouragement, my family's encouragement, and I want to tell you, also the crew's encouragement--that is to say, the people who are working on the crew in Vancouver, Canada--were unbelievably staunch. They would not let me fail, and you know how they did it? They simply expected the best of me. I, therefore, expected the best of myself. I could give no less. I am grateful to all of those people and to that experience of not stopping. It is very important to keep going. One of the things I've learned in life is that everybody falls down; falls down! It is important to get back up."