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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

"CSI" actor brings disability awareness to Milwaukee


Each Thursday at 8 p.m., millions of viewers tune in to watch (or TiVo) the CBS drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Among the notable characters on this ensemble show, the coroner, Dr. Albert Robbins, stands out -- partly for his dignified matter and partly because of his pronounced limp. What few viewers know is that the limp is real because actor Robert David Hall has two prosthetic legs.

This Thursday, Hall will be in Milwaukee to raise awareness for people with disabilities.

Though he grew up out East, Hall remembers coming to Milwaukee as a child and watching the Braves play in County Stadium. "My dad was convinced that the best dentists in the country were in Milwaukee," Hall says. "So he would come to Milwaukee often, and I got to go with him one year."

He'll be back in Brew City on Thursday to speak at the IndependenceFirst POWER LUNCH.

Hall got into acting while he was a student at UCLA. He took some acting classes and soon after got bit by the acting bug. "It's like Dracula," Hall says. "You get a taste of (acting) and you can't stop."

Hall's life changed forever in 1978, when an 18-wheel truck crushed his car and caused the loss of his legs. He was able to find steady work as a voice actor for radio commercials and television cartoons. Though he landed roles in Hollywood films like "Starship Troopers" and "The Negotiator," Hall remained more noticed for his voice (why, yes, that was his voice in the old "GI Joe" cartoon) than anything until he landed a full-time role on TV's highest rated drama in 2000. He also appears in the sci-fi thriller "The Gene Generation," which hits theaters later this year.

Hall has fought behind the scenes for disabled Americans for years. He has spoken in front of the U.S. Senate on behalf of the National Organization on Disability (NOD). He was also on hand last year at the United Nations to award King Abdullah II of Jordan for his country's progressive disability laws. Hall refused to let his disability get in the way of performing (he also plays guitar), and his stubborn nature wouldn't let him give up on a dream that for someone with a disability can be almost impossible.

"Just because I'm a person with a disability, that shouldn't limit me," he says.

Even though he has experienced a great deal of personal success, Hall is troubled that disabled Americans are treated differently by the rest of society. Hall recognizes that as a TV star, he has a platform where people will take him seriously. He says meeting people and breaking stereotypes is his favorite part of being a celebrity.

"Media connects with people," he says. "Whether it's Hollywood or Milwaukee, people are fascinated with what you have to say."

For all the progress, there's still a long road ahead for disabled people in the workforce. Many trained and qualified disabled people are still unable to land jobs. According to a 2004 NOD survey, only 35 percent of disabled Americans hold full or part-time jobs, compared to 78 percent of Americans without disabilities. Hall views this as part of a bigger struggle for acceptance. "A lot of us see it as a civil rights issue," he says, adding that he hopes that his success can inspire other disabled people from all walks of life.

"Hopefully people can see me and see that I'm not sitting around moping with my head in my hands," he says.

The IndependenceFirst POWER LUNCH will be held Thursday, June 15 at the Midwest Airlines Center. Admission is $50, with corporate tables also available. The Web site is independencefirst.org and the phone number is (414) 291-7520. OnMilwaukee.com is a media sponsor.

Talkbacks

OMCreader | July 9, 2006 at 6:52 p.m. (report)

Mary Sherman said: Aas ba participant of the " Power Luncheon" I have to say he is bopth an outstanding speaker as well as a delightful person. We have been fortunate to enjoy outstanding speakers the last few years such as Patty Duke,Henry winkler and Marly Matlin. Please join us next June if you can. The luncheon is about so much more than just a disability you deal with but encoraging stories of disabled people.

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OMCreader | June 13, 2006 at 4:46 p.m. (report)

Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices.com said: I was happy to see that his voice-over career was mentioned in addition to acting on television. Voice-over is a profession that lends itself well to performers with physical disabilities. Thank you for bringing more awareness to this! Stephanie http://www.voices.com

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OMCreader | June 12, 2006 at 12:54 p.m. (report)

Funki said: Is Mr. Pogo still performing? He rocked! I used to think of disabled people as needy people that you needed to treat different. That was until I got my ass wooped by a vietnam vet in a wheelchair with two stub legs. He swivel kicked me off my bar chair because I was talking about the bartender who he had a crush on! No joke!

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OMCreader | June 12, 2006 at 11:09 a.m. (report)

Carol V. said: This is a HUGE event--last year there were 950 people in attendance! See ya there.

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