For a year now, the small village of Rances, in the north of Vaud, has had a particularity: an elected official who listens, who does not make great promises but reads the needs of his constituents in his mouth. At 49, Vincent Guyon is the first deaf person in Switzerland to join an executive. A challenge that seems obvious to this lover of politics who intends to push back, through his municipal mandate, the ultimate limits of his disability.
“I wanted to do like the others”
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his parents, then Salvation Army missionaries, lived for a time, Vincent Guyon is deaf from birth. “Son, I was very turbulent, smiles the elected, installed in the carnotset of the municipality. One day, I was trotting along the road, perched on a small plastic horse. No matter how much my mom yelled to tell me to stop, I didn’t respond. That’s when she realized there was a problem.” Diagnosed as deaf, the boy only perceives very high-pitched noises in the first few years of life. After a fall on his return to Switzerland, his deafness has worsened even more. He then hears nothing.
Instead of exclusively teaching him sign language, young Vincent’s parents strive to give him as normal an upbringing as possible. “I studied at the regular school in Orbe, Valeyres-sous-Rances and Chavornay,” he says, referring to the long hours of speech therapy to learn to control the voice and pronounce words he cannot pronounce correctly. “My mother would have preferred to put me in a special school, but my father insisted that I face the world.” In front of his little comrades, he tries to erase their differences. “I was very curious, determined, I wanted to do like the others, play football, study, but above all, stop being the scapegoat of the class.” In his early teens, he entered a private school in Lausanne which, thanks to his individual supervision, enabled him to complete his compulsory education without incident.
Today, Vincent Guyon expresses himself like everyone else and easily answers the questions of his interlocutor, whom he observes carefully to follow the movement of his lips. Waldensian accent as a bonus. Difficulties begin during group discussions. “When everyone is talking at the same time, I can’t keep up,” he says. In these moments, he uses an interpreter in full oral language, which allows him to follow the thread of the debate. With the pandemic and the widespread use of the mask, exchanges suddenly got complicated. “In stores, when I explain to the salesperson that I can’t hear, some lower their masks, others get scared and write on a small piece of paper”, explains the Waldês, who in passing welcomes the existence of transparent masks.
“I thought to myself, why not?”
Another everyday object he uses to communicate via text and email: his smartphone. “From this point of view, technology has made a real breakthrough for the hearing impaired”, underlines the elected municipal deputy as he types on the keyboard. One area, however, remains lacking in his eyes: emergency services such as emergency services or the police. “The centers must have a message service so that the deaf can ask for help if needed.” Throughout the discussion, the word “disability” is never mentioned. It must be said that Vincent Guyon never made a mountain of his deafness.
Passionate about the sport, he first practiced skiing, gymnastics, football and, finally, basketball, his favorite field. He thus became a player, coach and then referee, two positions he still held in the listening teams. “On the floor, I’m in my universe, he confides. One eye on the timer, I forget about everyday life to focus on the game. Between 2017 and 2020 he was responsible for Swiss sports for the deaf under Romandie, then secretary general of the Swiss Deaf Sports Federation, a post he has now left.
In retrospect, the biggest obstacle remains, according to him, the gaze of others. “When it came to tasks that depended only on me, I never had a problem, details the chosen one. Having a girlfriend or getting a job, on the other hand, turned out to be more complicated.” Obstacles which the Waldensians, however, managed to circumvent. After an apprenticeship as an office worker, he works in different companies and meets a young Estonian man with whom he will have a child. Now separated, Vincent Guyon maintains joint custody.
How did your political activity begin? Installed in Rances since 1997, he loves this village of 500 inhabitants “like a bride to be married”. Engaging in politics for the commune was a final challenge for him. “In the beginning, I didn’t dare introduce myself”, underlines the elected independent deputy, previously turned to the left and who gradually evolved towards the center. It was listening to the testimony of a French mayor that the idea germinated in him. “I thought to myself, why not?” In June 2020, he is a candidate in the municipal complementary elections. “On my way to the city hall, where the results were posted, I met another candidate who congratulated me,” he says. Upon discovering my name on the sheet, the sky fell on my head.
In July, he takes office with a dicastery that includes lighting, roads, water or even firefighters. And multiple goals: renovating roads dating back to 1940, creating new parking spaces or even repairing pipes blocked by this summer’s bad weather. To accompany the debates, Vincent Guyon has an interpreter. Support partially financed by disability insurance only. In December 2020, the general council of Rances validated an “interpreter” budget in the municipality’s finances for the year 2021. A relief for the newly elected.
waiting on the corner
Surprised at first, the other members of the council finally welcome him warmly. “The collaboration is going very well, they realized that working with me was much calmer, there is more attention, listening, patience”, says Vincent Guyon. The chosen one knows, however, that he runs the risk of being expected at the turnaround: “If I don’t fulfill my mission, people will say it’s because of my disability, I want to avoid that at all costs”. Re-elected in 2021, he is already nurturing his next challenge: running in the 2022 Vaud cantonal elections under the colors of the Centre.
Who is better positioned than a person with a disability to talk about and act on inclusion?
What might be the impact of such a commitment for the deaf community in Switzerland? For Sandrine Burger, spokesperson for the Swiss Federation of the Deaf, the election of Vincent Guyon is a great opportunity to talk about deafness in the city and raise awareness of this invisible disability. “Who is better placed than a person with a disability to talk about and act on inclusion?” she asks.
If, in theory, the integration of the deaf is provided for by law, many gaps remain, recalls Sandrine Burger. “Proof of this is the report we have published since 2017 and which identifies more than 100 cases of discrimination against the deaf each year”. Cases that would even tend to increase. Schooling, working life, continuing education or even access to healthcare, the areas in question are still too numerous for the Swiss Federation of the Deaf. Through his journey, Vincent Guyon hopes to inspire the younger generation: “For many, a deaf person is someone who cannot go far in life, who will always remain limited. I want to prove you wrong.”