It is rare to have an exchange alumnus make such a large impact so soon after completion of their exchange program. This is the case of Juan Angel, an International Visitor Leadership Program participant from Venezuela. His experience as an IVLP participant helped transform his vision and understanding of disabilities. Previously, his work focused on boosting legal tools that addressed the treatment of people living with a disability. His IVLP program helped him to see that working at the municipal level is the key to success. In speaking on his experience he notes, “I was given the opportunity to widely understand a new way of approaching the accessibility for people with disabilities and public policies to ensure that the adjustments and changes that are made constitute a benefit to all.”
Guided by this new knowledge and inspiration, upon his return home Juan implemented a series of events across Venezuela to commemorate International Deaf Week. He scheduled activities in major cities, launched a website, and campaigned on social media to actively promote human rights for the Deaf community. His hashtags #YoApoyoLSV and #DDHHSordosVe helped promote Venezuelan Sign Language and created visibility for the Deaf community. He visited over 19 states in Venezuela carrying the message of “accessibility for all” and sharing his exchange experience. His creativity and hard work generated multiple partnerships with public and private institutions, as well as alliances with local municipalities. Juan motivated people with and without disabilities, from different organizations, in various regions with different political and ideological tendencies, to guarantee the rights of the Deaf community and open doors for others with disabilities.
In addition to his work promoting disability awareness, Juan also designs and implements workshops aimed at training human rights promoters. Wherever he goes he carries a message of inclusion and equality. Juan actively participates in alumni outreach meetings with the Venezuela Fulbright Association. As President of Consorven (National Confederation for the Deaf), he has established links with other IVLP alumni who serve as mayors of various localities. With these mayors he has worked to strengthen public policies and regulations for people with disabilities in those localities. He has also partnered with IVLP alumna Claudia Valladares to conduct workshops, lectures, and meetings on new developments at the Impact Hub Caracas.
Juan Angel considers himself a defender of truth and justice. These values are weaved into his tireless work supporting the Deaf and disabled community in Venezuela. His ability to bring different parties together and embolden them to support inclusion of people with disabilities has made his work a model for others. He has created successful alliances that have led to the transformation of municipal ordinances to effectively ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. His work has drawn many supporters, and he serves as a trustful liaison between the Deaf community and the Embassy. Always open to advising and supporting emerging projects, he has helped strengthen and enhance the “access for all” movement. Like one of his heroes Barack Obama, Juan Angel has, “driven major changes and has become a leader who inspires others in the spirit of change.”
Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Juan Angel De Gouveia is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout September on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.