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Disability a great learning tool for life

By Robert David Hall, Special to CNN
  • Robert David Hall hates to admit it, but he still believes that "Love is all you need"
  • Hall says he's a husband, father, brother, cousin, nephew, friend, co-worker
  • He says his disability, walking on prosthetic limbs, helped him find himself
  • His greatest joy is being the father of Andrew and husband of Judy

Editor's note: Robert David Hall is an American actor, best known for his role as coroner Dr. Albert Robbins on the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." He is a prominent advocate for disabled Americans.

(CNN) -- Trying to answer the question "Who am I?" is a tricky undertaking. I tend to despise labels, but it's probably helpful to have some idea of who you perceive yourself to be and how others perceive you.

It seems logical that you can examine this question from many angles: where you fit in statistically, physically, economically, spiritually, geographically, educationally and in so many other ways.

When I was a boy, my Cal Tech-educated father, an engineer and lawyer, used to tell me I was made up of nine dollars and 73 cents worth of chemicals and minerals. I'm fairly certain he was joking, but I think he was also trying to get me to consider the duality of humans, as both significant and insignificant. He certainly caused me to ponder who and what I am.

I grew up in many regions of the United States, and I'm a member of that particular "baby boomer" generation that came of age in the 1960s, so many things define me. I'm still guilty of believing that "Love is all you need," although I usually keep that to myself. Without pretending to be all-encompassing, a few things pop to the front of my mind when I consider who I am.

I'm a human being, a presumably sentient being, living in the 21st century. I'm one of the fortunate who lives in the United States with good health and health care, a great job, a close family, good friends and, thanks to my wife, a beautiful home.

As a citizen of this country, I'm also a taxpayer, a consumer of many things and, I hope, someone who gives back something and isn't too voracious in his consumption. I love my job acting on a TV show, and I value the people I work with.

I'm an imperfect but fairly responsive husband, father, brother, cousin, nephew, friend, co-worker and acquaintance.

Name: Robert David Hall
Age: 62
Birthplace: East Orange, New Jersey
Occupation: Actor, musician, father, husband

I'm also a survivor and a person with a disability. I became disabled in 1978 when I lost both legs in a freeway accident. An 18-wheeler truck hit me, and my car's gas tank blew up, leaving me burned over 60 percent of my body. I spent several months in a hospital and learned to walk on two prosthetic limbs. I've gone on to success in my career in radio and as an actor and musician.

I used to hate the word "disability," but I've come to embrace the fact that I'm one of more than 58 million Americans with some kind of physical or learning disability.

As anyone who's been there will attest, it's difficult at first to be "different," whatever that means to you. Discrimination is usually directed at people who are seen as the "other." I've experienced that in my life, but not to an overwhelming degree.

Working my way through my career and my life has been challenging but interesting. The obstacles I've faced have helped to shape me and make me who I am today. Along with my parents and teachers, my experience with disability has been a great learning tool. It's helped me to begin to answer the question "Who am I?"

So, at the risk of sounding self-absorbed, I'm Robert David Hall, Caucasian male, early 60s, pretty strong for my age, of Irish-Welsh-Scots heritage, proud of my grandfather, Robert A. Hall, Naval Academy, class of 1912; my father, Robert F. Hall, very smart man and decorated WWII naval officer; my mother, Mary Martha Davies, mother of five who encouraged me in the arts and died at 47; and almost all my relatives.

I'm college educated (UCLA), a decent guitar player and songwriter, a pretty fair actor, an AK/BK double leg amputee and a guy who values his friends. I hope to use my remaining days being creative with acting and music, traveling and helping to create more opportunities for people with disabilities.

All that aside, my greatest joy in life -- my "who I am" constant -- is being the father of Andrew and the husband of Judy.