Finding a Home, Embracing Our Disabilities
Rose Ann Hall Designs

by Brenda Sexton

The first thing you notice about Charlie Hall may be his disabilities, the physical disabilities he has had since birth; his arms end just past his elbows and his face has partial paralysis. But once you speak with him, these disabilities seem to disappear and become the last thing you notice about him. He has an infectious smile, sparkling sharp blue eyes. He is very engaging, full of energy and has a ability to connect.

Charlie runs Rose Ann Hall Designs just outside San Miguel. There he employs other persons with disabilities. He himself was born in Texas in 1960 with Moebius Syndrome. Moebius is a rare neurological disorder characterized by weakness or paralysis of multiple cranial nerves and can often affect the limbs in early fetal development.

At his birth, the doctors told his parents he would not survive more than a month or two. When he did, the doctors then stated that he would not be able to walk or talk. When he began walking and talking at the usual developmental time, the doctors scratched their heads and said that some babies are born with such a fierce will to live that they defy all odds. That determination pretty well sums up Charlie’s life and attitude.

Charlie was blessed with loving, well-educated, broad-minded parents. They surrounded Charlie and his older brother with broad experiences, including a multi-ethnic home with a black foster child. They instilled in Charlie a sense of justice and a can-do attitude. His father, a former marine, pushed him hard, always saying to Charlie, “If other kids can do it, you can do it.”

In my sit down with Charlie at the beautiful and inspirational Rose Ann Hall Designs glass and candle workshop 20 minutes outside of San Miguel, he shared thoughts about his background, his most difficult times and what his life is like here in San Miguel.

So Charlie, tell me about your childhood.

I was raised in a suburb outside of Dallas, Texas where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. It was a sheltered environment. My dad was a tough guy, a strict disciplinarian. My brother and I were taught from a young age to behave and did, so we were therefore taken to all sorts of adult situations. We didn’t have much money but we had vast exposure to life. My dad pushed me to do everything any other kids could do. He taught me how to play pool, use tools, make things, ride a bike, play ping pong... I was raised to dismiss my disabilities. I was expected to overcome them.

Things changed when I turned 13. We left this small community and moved into Dallas proper where no one knew me, I entered junior high and had to prove myself to a big, new world.

How did that go for you? Were you bullied?

At first I was, until one day I decided to stand up for myself and tell these bullies to back off. They did. It’s funny, I ran into the biggest of the bullies four years later when we were seniors in high school. He had no recollection of ever bullying me. I think people bully to cover up their own insecurities. He didn’t even know he had done it. High school was actually a great experience for me and I got an excellent education. I was in the first magnet school in Dallas. It was a great learning environment and I made some very close friends.

What about college?

I followed a friend of mine to college in Eastern Texas, a redneck environment. I learned that the way to get along with rednecks was to out drink them with tequila and to beat them at pool. My dad had played pool in bars to pay his way through college.

What were your biggest challenges?

My toughest time was trying to get a job out of college. I had never really had a job I had a degree in humanities and no one would give me a chance. I didn’t have confidence since I hadn’t really ever worked. It was the first time I realized that I had disabilities, that I was different from all my friends and my life was going to be effected and perhaps really limited by my differences. It was a brutal, depressing time.

How did you survive, Charlie?

I ended up going on social security to support myself, to help pay for my medical bills. I moved into HUD housing for people with disabilities. It was pretty awful for me.

I started a non -profit to help people with disabilities. I was good at raising money, but was not good at working with the disabled. I was too tough on them. I had never identified with disabled people and had a hard time accepting them and they had a hard time accepting me.

In high school our class went on a day trip to visit an elementary school for kids with disabilities. There was one boy in particular there who wanted to spend time with me and understand how I could do all the things that kids without disabilities could do. I ran away from him. I still feel badly about that today. I didn’t want to identify myself with the disabled. I wanted people to see me as "normal". If I were with other disabled people I’d be categorized into that group. It’s all so complicated, isn’t it?

When I was four my parents had me go weekly to a hospital for disabled children. I was the only out patient the hospital had. They fit me with artificial arms and hands and taught me how to tie my shoes with these artificial limbs. As soon as I’d leave the hospital I’d take them off and do everything without them. I guess I was pretty fierce about being independent and not identifying myself as disabled.

It is really complicated. Did you stick with the non-profit?

No, because I just wasn’t good at dealing with the people I was trying to help. I decided to go back to school and learn accounting, a specific skill to help me get a job. I ended up discovering and loving finance, so I specialized in that and accounting. One of my professors ultimately became a mentor to me and basically sponsored me to get hired by one of his clients. After six months with that company, while I was on a conference call with my boss and my mentor, my mentor asked, “Well, did Charlie work out for you, Dave, or do I owe you for his last six months of salary?” What a saint! I had no idea he had sponsored me. I stayed with that company for a few years and got amazing experience there. But then I discovered some unethical financial practices were going on and I decided I had to leave.

Where did you go next?

I ultimately went with Intel. There I felt I had finally “arrived.” How exciting it was to be in a top computer, leading-edge company. As they say, it was the best of times and the worst of times. Intel was a big company with a massive rule book. Instead of letting me do things my way, they’d pressure me to do it the Intel way. I loved it, but I often hated it, too. At times it was In-Hell instead of Intel. After five years there I was burnt out, exhausted, I needed to be let out of a cage. When I left I felt devoid of all feelings. My whole identity had become my corporate career. I was very depressed. It was then that I decided to come to San Miguel and get involved in my family’s business here.

What role had San Miguel played in your family?

We started coming to Mexico when I was six years old. My parents had taken me and my brother and grandparents to Disney World. I’m not sure what happened there, but the way people treated me was uncomfortable for my family. They decided from then on that we’d vacation in Mexico.

I’ve always heard that Disney is very accepting of children with disabilities.

Oh, it wasn’t Disney that was the problem. It was other guests. I don’t have any recollection of exactly what happened there, but it was uncomfortable for my family. When we came to Mexico for vacations, everyone was so accepting. I think it’s the poverty and Catholicism here. Kids with disabilities aren’t put in institutions. There are no institutions. They’re a part of their families and communities.

My mom was always the creative one in the family. With the help of my brother and dad, she started a business based in Texas, importing hand made glassware from Mexico back in the 80’s. When hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, delivery became a problem. That was at that time I was leaving Intel. My family needed my help. My brother was living in San Miguel and had a business here called Zocolo. It made sense for him and me to bring Mom's business to Mexico. We ultimately changed the business model from simply exporting glass to creating high-quality artisan etched glass and hand-dipped candles. We’ve gone from 5 employees to 32. About a quarter of them are disabled. Some people think all our employees are disabled, but actually we’re committed to integrating all types of people.

How did you find and train disabled employees?

When we began producing etched glass, a friend called me at 5:00 in the morning and said, “You know, Charlie, you can hire disabled individuals.” That was my ah-ha moment, my tipping point. As they say, the rest is history. As far as training goes, I knew from my own experience to let people do what they are capable of doing. Give them a chance and let them do it their way. We had a master craftsmen instructing us on the techniques.

Rose Ann Hall Designs - International Promo Film

How is your life here in San Miguel different from back in the States?

My life has changed tremendously living here. I am so much more confident and accepting of myself. I still have some insecurities and find I hold myself back at times. Three years ago I would never have gone to a big gala, but last night I went to the Casita Linda event and had a great time. I know it’s corny to say so, but the people here are my family. I feel loved and accepted and everyday I am becoming more of who and what I can be in this life. I think everyone in life is trying to find a home in a world that doesn’t want you to find one. San Miguel is my true home. I’ve always said disability is whatever holds you back from trying, doing or feeling good about yourself. Some of those demons are internal; some are external. We all have our disabilities. Day by day I am in a place where I can accept mine and rise above them. I’ve learned that I don’t need to overcome my disabilities, but rather to embrace them, own them. Otherwise the disabilities own me. It’s exciting and freeing.

What’s next for you, Charlie?

I feel ready now to form an effective non-profit to help disabled people. My success at creating and running a successful business that delivers a top quality product, has given me confidence and courage. That confidence helps me to help others in a way I wasn’t able to when I was fresh out of college.

I guess you’re no longer running away from disabled little boys.

No, I’m no longer running away from children with disabilities! I think I can make a difference in people’s lives here. San Miguel has helped me grow and helped me accept myself.

*****

Rose Ann Hall Designs
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Dolores Hidalgo—San Miguel de Allende 2, La Petaca, Got.
Tel 45-185-2252

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Brenda Sexton wrote for a movie-review website called reelmoviecritic.com and interviewed many celebrities (including Halle Berry, True Blood’s creator, Alan Ball, Harold Ramis and Clint Eastwood) for several Chicago publications.  
In 2003 Governor Blagojevich appointed her head of the Illinois Film Office.  She increased production revenues in the state from $25 million to half a billion dollars during her four years.

In 1997 Brenda was selected as a Crain’s Chicago 40 Under 40, was many times honored as one of Chicago’s top businesswomen by Crain’s Chicago Business, was elected to the Chicago Film Critics’ Executive Board. In 2005 the Chicago Tribune named her Person of the Year, and in 2007 Mayor Daley issued a City Resolution honoring her contribution to Chicago. Brenda and her husband, Greg Nye, are now permanent residents of San Miguel de Allende with occasional escapes to their home in Palm Desert, Calif.

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