France’s First Public Official with Down Syndrome Helps Everyone See Disability Differently

In the town of Arras in northern France, the country’s first ever appointed official with Down syndrome is leading from the front, changing hearts and minds and bringing a new perspective on mental disability.

In 2020, Éléonore Laloux was appointed municipal councilor of Arras under the mayor Frédéric Leturque, for which she has received continual praise for her colorful nature, her insatiable desire to make people smile, and for promoting the inclusivity of disabled persons in society.

On October 15th, Ms. Laloux was awarded membership of the National Order of Merit, the second highest civilian honor roll in the country.

“Inclusion isn’t something that we just think about; it’s not a generous act. It’s our duty,” Mayor Leturque told the Christian Science Monitor. “Eléonore has helped the entire town progress in terms of how we see disability.”

Along with holding down a part-time job at a hospital, a packed volunteer schedule, and a board position on Down Up, a nonprofit her father launched to support community members with Down syndrome and their families, Laloux has made numerous adjustments to everyday community features in Arras to support disabled people; not exclusively those with Down syndrome, but other forms as well.

Arras’ famous town center, town hall, and belfry are a UNESCO Heritage Site, and for those who can’t ascend to the top, Laloux organized and commissioned the creation of a virtual tour.

Down below, crosswalk lights now sound off verbal instructions for those who can’t hear or see. She has also scheduled an “incluthon” for next summer, an event to inspire disabled people and the community at large through sports and culture.

“I’m a very committed and dynamic person, and I like to be out working with people,” said Ms. Laloux, who in 2014 wrote a book which roughly translates to Down Syndrome, So What?!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this upbeat attitude has made her a very popular figure in town and country, and she has made numerous television and other public appearances, including alongside many national politicians and cabinet members. But her appointment is by no means a gimmick to gain support from sensitive constituents; she’s made some brilliant changes in civil life.

One such accomplishment is opening Arras to a Dutch method of civil society called “the Nudge” a sort of “c’mon then,” to the community to get them to treat it better. Nothing could better represent this than putting small imitation basketball hoops over public trash bins.

She’s continued her activism on behalf of those with Down syndrome, with her “Friends of Eléonore,” foundation, even during public life, and argues vociferously against those with a limited understanding of the capabilities of disabled persons.