Hello there, my name is Joe Hall. I write a weekly column on a highly respected blog. My work has begun to gain more attention and momentum, and the company I founded a few years ago is building a strong brand with in its industry. I live an increasingly public life on-line, and I have a disability.
For the last several years I haven’t felt that my disability isn’t relevant to many of the things I do on the internet. Because of that I have tried to steer the dialog away from it. In short, I want folks to talk about me because of the code that I write, the brands that I build, and the stories that I tell. Not because of the 200 pounds of steel strapped to my ass.
Because of this I have been apprehensive about talking publicly about my disability in the last several years. Which quite honestly has been really hard and strange for me. You see, I used to do nothing but talk about my disability (more on that later). But now its time that I let the cat out of the bag and start talking honestly about my life with a disability. I hope by doing this I can share a different perspective on the things I do.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
On January 22nd 1982 my twin sister, Rachel, and I were born. Weighing in at 6lb 6ozs Rachel was perfect in every way. However, I had a different agenda. Sporting an authentic South Carolina mullet (seriously, it was weird) that went half way down my back, I came into this world blazing! To start things off, I had 22 broken bones during child birth. With the medical staff not really sure what to do with me, they decided to call in an expert. Soon, Dr. Richard M Davis diagnosed me with a rare bone disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI).
Osteogenesis Imperfecta is a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily, often from little or no apparent cause. If you really want to geek out on OI, read up on genetic collagen deformities.
So in short, OI causes my bones to break easily. I have had some where in the ball park of a few hundred fractures so far. OI is also defined by the LPA as one of the most common types of dwarfism.
As a result of having OI I am three feet tall and use an electric wheelchair. I am also partially deaf as a result of OI affecting the bones in my ears.
The birth of a hacker.
So having a brittle bone disorder as a kid means not playing sports, riding a bike, or taking part in many of the physical activities that most children enjoy. Because of this I think most people with OI develop a creative personality at a very young age, from the need to entertain themselves. While many of my friends were playing school sports or exploring the neighborhood, I was in my room taking things apart.
Yep, that’s right I said taking things apart. You see from as far back as I can remember I have always had a very curious obsession with learning how things work. I love to look inside something and trace the steps and parts to see how it functions. Which is what ultimately led me to teach myself to program using reverse engineering. Taking things apart was so much of an obsession that as a kid I started taking apart anything I could get my hands on. I have taken apart, TVs, telephones, radios, clocks, watches, remote controls, cameras, fans, VCR’s, camcorders, computers, lamps, doorbells, door locks, and much more. My favorite thing to take apart is a hair dryer, because when you remove the outer shell it looks like a ray gun.
Eventually, my parents got a bit tired of me taking apart all of the appliances in the house and started taking me to garage sales on Saturday mornings to find new things to take apart. The rest of the weekend was devoted to hacking my new prize! I remember visiting my friends houses and they would have shoe boxes of baseball cards. When they visited my house they would see my shoe boxes of electric motors, LEDs, circuit boards, and battery assemblies.
As I got older I taught myself how to write HTML using Angelfire and Geocities to experiment with. Web development back then was different mostly because WYSIWYG editors weren’t widely available like they are now, and as a result folks that built web sites actually understood the code.
Joe goes to Washington
During my senior year of high school I remember a lot of folks telling me that I should study computer science in college. A few folks told me that working with computers would be the best choice for me because of my disability. After I heard that I knew I would never study computer science! The absolute worst thing you can tell a young person with a disability is, you should do this or that because of your disability.
So, I did what any idealistic energized young person would do, I studied politics! During my study of political science I quickly became involved in the disability rights movement. I joined the National Disabled Students Union two weeks after it was founded. And, several years later became their executive director. My time at NDSU was one of the most important parts of my life. I can accredit most of my marketing and PR skills to working along side some of the most amazing public policy and political minds in the disability policy sphere. It was during this time that I started to learn about marketing. Although at the time we called it grass roots political action, but in the end it was marketing none the less. In both marketing and grass roots advocacy, we promote ideas, organize people around information, and sell hope.
Back to Binary
While I was deep in the political world, I never stopped writing code. In the little bit of spare time I had in 2002 I created Sivle. And I often did small web sites for the organizations I was working with. After college I kept volunteering for many of the organizations that I was active with in college. But then discovered the hard truth that there isn’t much money in changing the world. In fact many of the jobs that I was most passionate about back then didn’t pay a dime.
So, I naturally started building web sites and custom web applications for anyone that needed it. Eventually, I took a job as an in house IT specialist at a local real estate company. While there I convinced the broker in charge to let me build a web site and start an internet marketing campaign. With in several months our leads from the internet went from 0% to 90%. Despite the influx of leads the company still had a hard time in a terrible market. As a result, slowly every member of the staff was laid off, except me. As my broker put it, I was the only one that produced results. However, even my internet marketing magic couldn’t stand up against one of the worst housing markets in history, and soon I was let go as well.
For the last several years I have put my heart, soul, money, and lack of sleep into building a business on the internet, and, I can honestly say that I am more excited about the future than I ever have been. I have no idea where I will be next year, but I can’t wait to get there.
If you have never talked to me online or met me in person, make sure you reach out on Twitter or with the links to the right. Or email me anytime at joe [at] jozsoft [dot] com