Breaking stereotypes: The triumph of a disability inclusion

Edited on 05/07/2024

Leonel on stage telling his experience using digital devices to the attendees

Leonel escorted by Fernando, showing the attendees his experience using several digital devices for his daily routines.

Leonel escorted by Fernando, showing the attendees his experience using several digital devices for his daily routines.

In this article we would like to delve into a success story led by our DIGI-INCLUSION Network Partner, the Municipality of Torres Vedras (Portugal), who were also responsible for hosting the  Transnational Partner Meeting during last April. 

More specifically, we would like to emphasise the role of Leonel Alves, who, during the Transnational Meeting in Torres Vedras, shared with the partnership his story about having a disability and being digitally included. During the meeting he was accompanied by Fernando Martins, teacher in the Secondary School Henriques Nogueira.

Breaking stereotypes: The triumph of a disability inclusion

Leonel Alves was born in 1974 and in his third month of life he was diagnosed with bilateral congenital glaucoma and the prognosis of total blindness. Even though he underwent three operations that seemed to be restoring his sight, in 2007 his sight began to fail again. Finally, after multiple operations in both his eyes, in January 2014 he lost his sight completely.


In the private sphere, Leonel lives alone and has the necessary autonomy to go about his daily life with peace of mind. In the professional sphere, since February 2015, Leonel works as a technical assistant at the “Gabinete de Apoio à Deficiência Visual”, the Visual Impairment Support Office (GADV) at Torres Vedras city council, which has about 60 users to whom he provides services, providing administrative support and collaborating in the activities carried out by this service.


On a day-to-day basis, Leonel works with a computer that has a screen reader with voice, describing contents in audio and shares with GADV users the knowledge he has acquired through experimentation. Moreover, he also supports other users of the service by helping them find their way around using the GPS app, the use of social networks, make phone calls, take photos, read emails, etc. Additionally, he organizes meetings with GADV users through the online platform Zoom in between many other tasks.


Another digital tool that he uses in his daily life is a portable document scanner that reads simultaneously the document as it is being scanned. This same digital tool allowed him to finish his basic studies, which he had to pause at an early age in order to join the labour market in the construction sector, and to obtain the certificate when in 2018 he went back to finish them. 


Losing his sight gave Leonel a reason to equip himself with the digital skills that he’d previously not felt necessary for him. By finding the motivation and the support to become more digitally able, and hence digitally included, he was able to become empowered to both participate in daily activities himself, but also to help and support others and provide inspiration to those who may be struggling with similar challenges. 


Leonel now is a champion for many causes and projects. He leads the Erasmus+ “Rede de Modelos Inspiradores” ("Network of Inspiring Models") project in Torres Vedras, which aims to promote inclusive education through community engagement and cultural diversity. This Network features a two-year campaign to integrate people with disabilities and ethnic minorities into the education system. 


In the first year of the project, the focus was on integrating individuals with special needs and members of the Romani community into the educational system of Torres Vedras. Activities were designed to increase visibility and understanding of these communities through shared stories and collaborative events. The second year expanded the scope to include cultural diversity and addressing social barriers, aiming to dismantle prejudices and enhance social integration through education reform and community involvement.


The "Network of Inspiring Models" project also emphasises the collaboration between local educational institutions and community leaders to foster an environment where every individual, regardless of their background or abilities, can access quality education. The project involves workshops, interactive sessions, and public discussions aimed at challenging the conventional narratives around disability and ethnicity in education.

Torres Vedras - An inclusive Municipality

The Municipality of Torres Vedras takes the issue of digital and social inclusion of people with disabilities very seriously and achieves it through to different areas and projects that deal with this issue directly, such as: 

  • The International Day of People with Disabilities marked in Torres Vedras on December 3rd in a partnership with APECI - the Association for the Education of Disabled Children.

  • The Inclusion Desk that aims to serve citizens with disabilities and their families, providing them with information on existing rights, benefits and resources, providing them with correct referrals and developing a mediation function with public services and private entities, which will be able to respond more effectively to their questions.

  • Additionally, The Municipality of Torres Vedras, through the implementation of its Health Development Plan (PDS), developed interventions in the area of disability, with regard to visual impairment. In this sense, a partnership was established in order to get to know the population with severe visual impairment (>30%) in the municipality, what their problems and needs are and thus define strategic and planned actio

  • Likewise, the Project “Conversations Revealing (D)Efficiency” with the aim of promoting people with disabilities, raising awareness among the young population about the issue of disability and demystifying the prejudices associated with it.

  • The Inclusive School aims to diagnose the situations of children with disabilities who have not yet been part of the compulsory education system. Its objective is to understand the municipal reality regarding these children, portraying their needs and allowing preparation for their inclusion in the compulsory education system.

The aforementioned activities are designed to encourage greater community involvement and to ensure that educational practices evolve to be more inclusive and accommodating towards people with disabilities.



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Submitted by AlbertMollet on 05/07/2024
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