France to hand top medal to mentally disabled man

Since it was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 the Légion d'honneur medal has never been awarded to a mentally disabled person. That will all change on Monday night.

France to hand top medal to mentally disabled man
On Monday night the President will award the Legion of Honour order to Jean-Pierre Crépieux. Photo: Sunny Ripert/Flickr

When President François Hollande bestows France’s highest decoration upon 70-year-old Jean-Pierre Crépieux on Monday night, history will be made.

Crépieux, who co-founded “L’Arche”, an association for people with learning disabilities will become the first mentally disabled man to be awarded the prestigious Legion of Honour (Légion d'honneur).

“I am touched to have been selected,” Crépieux told radio station France Bleu Nord.

[Jean-Pierre Crépieux giving a talk. Photo: L'Arche]

The association now builds communities where people with disabilities live and work together with those who assist them to give them a proper place in society.

In 1972, Crépieux, who lived in a mental health hospital between the ages of five and 13, founded his own community near Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France. After working in a steel factory in Boulogne he joined the carpentry team in the community.

“Jean-Pierre never liked the word ‘handicapped’,” Céline Roche, spokesperson of the “L’Arche” association told The Local. “To him it’s synonymous with ‘incapable’ but that’s not what people with disabilities are. I see it all the time that they have this strong capability of forging social relationships.”

Currently, more than 1,200 people with intellectual disabilities live in one of the association’s 31 community centres in France.

In total, there are 140 communities in 40 countries spread over five continents.

by Simone Flückiger

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