By Daniel J. Vance
You may have seen Robert David Hall play coroner Dr. Albert Robbins on the #1 rated TV drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." But what you may not know about him is that in 1978 his car collided with an 18-wheeler. He had severe burns.
"And I lost my legs because of those burns, one below the knee and one above," Hall said from Hollywood. To get around now, he uses artificial legs with crutches or a wheelchair.
Hall is driven to help persons with disabilities. He is National Chairman of the Performers with Disabilities Caucus for the Screen Actor's Guild and AFTRA, a Media Access Office board member, and he works with the Mutual Amputee Aid Foundation, World Burn Congress, Amputee Coalition of America, and Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities.
For persons with disabilities seeking acting careers, he had these tips. "Until you prove yourself as an actor, and this applies to any person with a disability, Hollywood will categorize you," he said. "Most persons with a disability only audition for disabled roles. That cuts down on your opportunities. I'm an exception. If you're only going to audition for the occasional disabled role, you aren't going to make a living at this business. Eighty percent of Screen Actors Guild members earn less than $15,000 a year, and for actors with a disability the picture is grimmer. You have to truly want this as your profession because the odds are stacked against you. There are few standouts. Performers with disabilities are getting the idea that they have to be better."
To help transform an American and Hollywood hiring culture that idolizes perfect bodies, Hall uses strategies gleaned from the '60s civil rights movement. "Constant intelligent pressure for change is necessary, and I stress the word 'constant,'" he said. "If you leave the table people will forget about your issues. People with disabilities need strong, courageous and omnipresent advocates. It's a battle."
The 56-year-old actor especially enjoys working with Mutual Amputee Aid Foundation. Through it, he visits in hospitals and homes persons recently losing limbs. The Foundation pairs him with persons his age. "The visits are more about listening than giving advice," Hall said. ”It's shocking to lose a limb. But when a recent amputee sees another amputee their age walking and functioning, it gives them hope that they can get through it, too."