Vietnam Vet speaks at Dorantes lecture

David Svensson , staff writer and David Svensson , staff writer

Dr. Richard Pimentel, an expert on disability management and a senior partner of Milt Wright and Associates, delivered the 20th annual Leonardo Dorantes Memorial Lecture with the story about his life.

Milt Wright and Associates offers different training programs that include consulting people with disabilities and their employers, focusing on disability management, job creation and employment resources. Pimentel, author of the interactive disability-training program, “Tilting at Windmills,” offers his services to people all over the nation.

“I came back from Vietnam with disabilities, but the biggest barrier I faced was not the disabilities I had, but people beliefs about the disabilities I had,” Pimentel said. “I had to learn to overcome other people’s low expectations of me.”

The Vietnam War left Pimentel partially deaf with traumatic brain injuries. He had to re-learn basic parts of life like how to speak in public, and drive.

Pimentel spoke loosely and humorously to about 250 people of various ages that attended the lecture in the Sports Pavilion.

“I had to learn how to feed myself, I mastered that,” Pimentel said as he glanced down on his stomach, a gesture that made most of the audience laugh.

Pimentel reminisced about when he and a friend went out to a restaurant back in the ‘70s, a waitress refused to serve them food because of their looks, and instead she called the cops. The cops arrested both Pimentel and his friend and charged them for breaking an “ugly law.”

“There were 23 ugly laws in 1972 in America, they were laws that prohibited people who were physically disabled and disgusting looking from being out in public,” Pimentel said. At that point, 23 cities had such laws.

“I spent 30 years trying to get these laws off the book,” Pimentel said.

From 1972 to 1990, they managed to put together the American with Disabilities Act, which made it possible for everyone with a disability to live a life of freedom and equality. As it passed, all the ugly laws were gone.

“Today we have over 350,000 veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who have traumatic brain injuries,” Pimentel said. “And with our help they’re doing well.”

The lecture series was established in 1991 after City College student Leonardo Dorantes was killed in a race-related assault.

Pimentel spoke about discounting in different ways. A discount in retail is when you get something much cheaper than you normally would, but a discount in the human sense is when you believe that another human is being worth much less than they are. People are discounted because of their gender, skin-color, or some other prejudice, he said.

“When they put that tag on you that says 50 percent off, I want you to remember that you are not 50 percent off, you are worth a 100 percent of your value, to yourself, to the ones who love you, and to me. Do not let anyone discount you, and do not discount anyone, the only thing you should be discounting is an iPhone,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel used a screen showing the lecture in text and a translator so those with disabilities could understand the speech.

After Pimentel finished the lecture, the majority of the audience gave him a standing ovation.

“I was so inspired by the lecture. It was really heartfelt from the perspective of somebody who was able to portray his whole experience up on stage,” said student Alysa Huppler-Poliak. “I also have a traumatic brain injury myself so it was so amazing to see he has been able to be so productive with a disability.”