Disability.  Cinema, television, social networks... these initiatives which are changing mentalities little by little

Disability. Cinema, television, social networks… these initiatives which are changing mentalities little by little

The enormous success of Artus’ film Un p’tit truc en plus illustrates the French interest in disability. Mentalities are changing and, little by little, integration is progressing.

A sunny June evening is looming, and yet there are only a few seats left in this cinema in the heart of Paris. Six weeks after its release, the film A little thing in addition topped the box office with more than seven million admissions (1). It’s even the best theatrical success of the year. The plot is joyfully fanciful – a robber and his son hide out in a colony for the disabled, the second posing as one of them. But the originality comes above all from the casting since the characters are played by actors with real disabilities. Their little extra thing? A rare and incurable genetic disease, autistic disorders, Down syndrome…

“The film did me good! I hope that we will scare people less,” says Samy Valizadeh at the end of the session, confined to a wheelchair by a genetic disease causing the reduction of her muscles. The other spectators are just as enthusiastic. “Thank you, thanks to you I have grown humanly,” said one. “It’s a shot of conscience. I realize that usually I never see these people,” adds the other. In Cannes, the entire film team was treated to the red carpet and the spotlight of the national and international press. Does this phenomenal success, which shines the spotlight on the 12 million people with motor and mental disabilities in our country, indicate a change in times?

Florent Chapel is convinced of this. For this father of an 18-year-old autistic son and co-president of the Autisme Info Service association and co-author ofAutism, the big investigation (Ed. Les Arènes), “this film could not have been made thirty years ago”. Since the 2010s, feature films on disability have been a hit: Untouchables (2011), Out of Standards (2019)… “Mentalities have changed thanks to this fundamental movement. Raising awareness is a matter of repetition,” adds the father. In a society that is more attentive, especially among younger generations, to minorities and discrimination – sexist, racial, or otherwise – the dynamic is accelerating.

Far from being confined to the seventh art, the theme asserts itself on the small screen. Offered at prime time on the public service, the show The Papotin meetings attracts nearly three million viewers each time it is broadcast. Recipes for success? Unfiltered and intimate interviews with great personalities – Emmanuel Macron, Danny Boon, etc. –, carried out by non-professional journalists with autism spectrum disorder.

Free yourself from embarrassment

A few years ago, Samy Valizadeh didn’t dare display his chair on his Instagram account. She who, in the street, dressed all in black to go unnoticed. Everything changed when she formed a friendly group with “able-bodied” women, whose neutral gaze and attentive gestures liberated her. Today, she uses social networks to tell her virtual community about her daily life – there are a small handful of thousands following her –, from her visits to the hospital to her vacations in the south of France. Even posing in a two-piece swimsuit in the pool and sporting an ultra-colorful wardrobe. “I only receive kind comments in return,” she assures. A message for all people who are ashamed of their disability. “We no longer have to fear what people will look at. It’s also up to us to change mentalities,” she says with confidence.

Even a century ago, people with mental disabilities were considered “backward” or “abnormal”. And most of these children were deemed unfit to enter the school system. “We had to wait until the 1960s for the intellectually disabled to all be considered educable,” observes historian Gildas Brégain and author of For a history of disability in the 20th century (Ed. Rennes University Press). The Veil law of 1975 marks a first turning point. It establishes the education of schoolchildren in ordinary settings. A new impetus came in 2005. Disability was no longer only understood through a medical but a civic prism. After having been restricted for a long time, the right to vote was restored in 2005 for people with disabilities.

Speech has also been freed. Major personalities are no longer afraid to publicize the disability of one of their loved ones, like the actor Samuel Le Bihan, whose daughter has autism. “Before, parents were ashamed of their disabled child, today, they fight to improve their daily lives,” observes Florent Chapel. In the Lyon region, the mother of an autistic boy convinced her neighborhood supermarket to introduce “silent hours” – less music and light – in the afternoon. The idea inspired other brands or shopping centers.

A long road still

But there is still a long way to go, even in the opinion of the French. In a recent Ifop survey, 62% of them believe that “society still treats the disabled negatively”. Just look at the Paralympic Games, for which ticket sales are not taking off. And disability remains the leading cause of discrimination in France: 67% of recruiters find it difficult to hire people in this situation. Result: 14% of them are unemployed, twice as high as the national average.

Valentin Rimetz, paralyzed in all four limbs, realized this well. Arriving on the job market two years ago, this young Sciences Po graduate in a wheelchair has multiplied the applications. “I thought I was doing the right thing by sending them my RQTH (recognition of the status of disabled worker allowing companies to receive aid, Editor’s note), with my CV and cover letter! ” In vain.

After months of struggle, a position opened up for him in a financial assets company. One of the managers was familiar with the subject, as someone in his entourage was concerned. “When people are confronted with disabilities in their private lives, they are more sensitive to them in their professional lives,” notes the young Parisian. In terms of urban planning, too, we could do better. In addition to inaccessible public transport, such as the Paris metro, or high curbs, certain human behaviors make life hell for different citizens. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a bus lane the wrong way because of a car parked on the sidewalk,” sighs Valentin.

At forty years old, Samy Valizadeh still feels infantilized in certain situations. One day, sitting at a table with two other friends at a restaurant, she saw the waiter arrive with only two menu cards in his hand… “I’m in a wheelchair, but I know how to read and write! », she sighs, without expanding. “People are so unfamiliar with seeing us that they don’t know how to react,” adds Valentin, who tries to approach things philosophically. Two years ago, he had a hard time not being able to go to his prom gala organized in a building not accessible to the disabled. Today he procrastinates: “I am certain that if we had thought about my situation, we would have chosen another place. When people don’t deal with disability on a daily basis, they forget. »

(1) Source: CBO Box Office.

Testimony: “I cling to small gestures”

Laetitia, 43 years old, specialized educator in the Lyon region

“As an educator specializing in the disability sector for twenty years, I support children with multiple disabilities, with motor disorders but also associated disorders (autistic, cognitive, developmental delays, etc.)

Initially, this environment impressed me. Many children do not speak or walk. We have to support them for everything, adapt to them. You have to pay attention to every detail to build a bond, to hold on to little things.

Then, little by little, trust is born and we understand each other. I can detect a small smile in a child who has no facial expression or understand a look in another who cannot speak.

I remember this boy with Angelman syndrome (neurodevelopmental disorder). When he arrived, he only communicated through violence. It took months, but we managed to find another way to communicate: thanks to pictograms that he was able to memorize over time, he was able to speak to us calmly. I cling to these small gestures. I also allow them to discover their abilities, then show their parents that they are not just disabled children. Some manage to hold their fork alone, while others start painting!

From the outside, the job can seem difficult or even sad. But for me, it’s magical! I like to take time with them. It’s even more beautiful in our society where we live at a thousand miles an hour! »

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