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April 1, 2010

Deaf Speaker Shares Life Stories

From: The Breeze - Apr 1, 2010

By Jessica Albert

HARRISONBURG, Va. — After being falsely pronounced dead at birth, Richard Pimentel was abandoned by his biological mother. Four years later, his grandmother adopted him from an orphanage and raised him.

Even with a rough start to his life, Pimental enlisted in the army during the Vietnam War, where he suffered a brain injury and severe hearing loss.

Now a disability activist Pimentel spoke in HHS Monday, during Disability Awareness Week, about his life and experiences with a disability.

Pimentel is a nationally renowned expert on disability management, job recruitment, retention and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pimentel’s life was made into a 2007 film called “Music Within.”

The Office of Disability Services scheduled and planned events for Disability Awareness Week that go along with their theme for this year: “Anyone can change the world.”

“I’m the coolest old fat man you will ever meet in your life,” Pimentel said during his speech.

Pimentel humorously told stories about his life during the evening. He wanted the audience to understand why they would want to hear what he had to say.

Pimentel said he struggled as a youth because of his stay at the orphanage.

“I was a voluntary mute,” Pimentel said. “I didn’t speak in public and didn’t say much at home.”

Pimentel was considered mentally retarded by many school officials when he was younger. This, along with the fact that Pimentel’s family was poor, prevented him from going to college.

During the Vietnam War he got into an accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury and experienced significant hearing loss. This accident caused him to be removed from the army. After the army Pimentel enrolled in Portland State on his own dime.

After enrolling at Portland State, Pimentel and another disabled college friend were arrested 33 times while trying to get their point across about disabled Americans.

He became an advoate and activist for the Disabilities Rights Movement. Disabilities Services Specialist, Matt Trybus said, “He was instrumental in creating the coalition that eventually constructed and helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

At the end of his speech, Pimentel repeated the theme of JMU’s Disability Awareness Week to reinforce that he is living proof of it.

Unlike most campus events, there was a sign language interpreter for deaf individuals and a voice activated word processor that displayed the text of the speech live.

Disability Services was pleased with the number of people who showed up. Last year, a movie screening during Disability Awareness Week had less than 10 individuals attend.

@ 2010 the Breeze