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Equality & Inclusion

Michael Jacques: I Belong; Can I Play?

By Michael Jacques.

My name is Michael Jacques, I am 29 years old and I have an intellectual disability and autism. I can’t read or write but that has not stopped me writing two books: “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book” and my new one “I Belong; Can I Play?”.

I live near Niagara Falls, Canada and I work at a local grocery store called Sobeys. I am a Special Olympics athlete and since writing my book I have been doing presentations for elementary, secondary, college and university students, parents and staff. I want to show people that anything is possible with support and hard work.

As a child it was always hard to be included at school or in the neighbourhood. Sometimes it made me feel sad but I always tried to think outside the box and figure out how I could belong. I don’t think most kids excluded me on purpose, I think they just didn’t know how to include me because of my disabilities. At recess time, in elementary school, the kids wanted to always win at their games so they would not want me on their team because they knew they would probably lose. Now when I do presentations I let the students know that at recess it’s not about winning and losing - it’s about having fun. I try to teach them and make them aware that when they exclude people it makes them sad.

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Michael delivers presentations to schools and communities about the importance of inclusion.

Driving change through COVID-19

When COVID-19 started last March, I had scheduled over 50 live presentations that I had to cancel due to the lockdown. Sales of my books dropped so I focused on my part-time job. My executive assistant (my dad) started to get requests for virtual presentations so we had to learn how to do it and understand the technology to make it work. Our first virtual presentation happened in August 2020 and I have done about 15 of those so far. Virtual presentations are hard to do because I don’t get any feedback from the audience; I don’t hear their laughs and I don’t get to see their faces. I know I am getting better at them because I always get positive feedback from the organizations afterwards. Sales are a bit better but I find that I sell more books when I do an in-person presentation.

I also virtually launched my second book, “I Belong; Can I Play?” at the beginning of October 2020 during COVID. Heather Gale, a children’s author and the co-author of the book, worked with me and my sister Kaila to write a true children’s picture book about my life growing up. She told me that she enjoyed my first book and believed that a children’s picture book about myself living with a disability would help kids visually understand what it’s like to be different and embrace it. We did most of the work on the book during COVID. All our meetings took place using Skype so we never got together in the same room at all. I still have not met Heather face to face yet but we have a book together. This shows that anything is possible!

COVID hasn’t really changed what I want to do. I just need to do it differently. I always try to think outside the box and come up with other ways to accomplish my goals. I want to continue to share my story with others. I think it's also important that we keep a positive attitude even during tough times. I am focusing on my two books and presentations but I want to write another book. With help and support I know I can do it!

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Michael's new children’s picture book shares his experiences of living with a disability to encourage social inclusion.

Advocating for a more inclusive world

My first book “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book” helped me share my story with hundreds of people. To write it, I used speech-to-text technology and my iPad. We sold over 20,000 books in 2 years and I have done over 150 presentations during that time.

Since October 2020 I have sold about 450 “I Belong, Can I Play?” books. I really enjoy doing presentations because I always get great questions from the audience and a lot of students tell me that I have inspired them to do better. I like sharing my story to show anything is possible. Many people have said to me that they enjoyed my story. I have had people share their story about people they know that are like me. They said it gave them hope and that anything is possible with a lot of hard work and support.

Buy Michael’s book for yourself at: www.heresmybook.com or find out more by visiting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Article published: March 2021

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