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Young people key in changing opinions

Being in a ‘situation of disability’ has proved little handicap for Jean-Christophe Parisot de Bayard, who is the first person with a handicap in France to be named a prefect.

Calling himself a ‘militant of the impossible’ he has overcome preconceptions – even being twice a presidential election candidate – and is a government adviser on disability.

We spoke to him about his life and the challenges.


You are a prefect charged with a public service mission. What is your role?

I have an expert role in the public policies put in place by government. It means seeing what works, how it works, and suggesting areas for improvement.

As such, for example, I monitored the implementation of an anti-poverty plan and its inclusion in 30 departments of the south of France.

What are the main difficulties faced by handicapped people in France?

Unlike our Anglo-Saxon neighbours, here people fear a handicap as if it is contagious. An invisible wall exists, too often.

When I go to a restaurant, whoever is with me is often asked what I want to eat. And we almost never see handicapped elected representatives or journalists.


What measures should be introduced to help?

It is necessary to rethink the entire home-travel-work-leisure chain and not just make improvements here and there. What is the use of going out of the house but not being able to enter all the shops?


Have you seen improvements in recent years?

Opinions are changing, notably by engaging children in mainstream education. I created an association that gives college students the chance to experience disability. Young people have fewer preconceptions. 


How did you become a prefect?

I was the first tetraplegic student to graduate at Sciences- Po, and I have moved up the ranks since joining the mayor’s office in Amiens aged 23.

Thanks to my doctorate in political science, I was made a territorial administrator and, at 40, the first ministerial delegate for handicapped people in the Ministry of Education.

I was the first handicapped sub-prefect (in Cahors) and made prefect in 2012.


You believe you are descended from the famous knight ‘Chevalier de Bayard’?

I am passionate about history and genealogy. My paternal grandmother was from Dau­phiné province and descended from the same family.

All I had to do was complete the puzzle with authentic documents and have them examined by the Keeper of the Seals.


How important is he in history?

Each country has its emblematic figures. Bayard is, alongside Joan of Arc or Napoleon, a figure of France’s great ‘national novel’.

He is the selfless, loyal, faithful and courteous knight. All regimes have valued him since his death in 1524. His image was on a franc note during the First World War!


Why are these links so important to you?

He is a model of a man who has passed through the centuries, and it is extraordinary to think I am one of his family. I feel responsible for passing on his memory to future generations because we need to know true wealth comes from being selfless and genuine.

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