Michael Jacques lives life overcoming obstacles. He doesn’t read or write, but that doesn’t stop him from sharing his story in the most creative of ways. Jacques shares his story about how he became a self-published author to his books “I Belong: Can I Play?” and “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book.” A feat that while challenging, was well worth it in the end.
His journey to published author all started one day after his sister was “snooping” around his room and found the journal he’d written through dictation. Like all big sisters, her first action was to read all about herself, but her second was to ask him what he wanted to do with it. Without much thought, he said he wanted to write a book.
Jacques uses the word “invisible” sometimes when discussing his disability. He can’t read or write beyond basic words. He doesn’t know what a five-dollar bill is. And sometimes he gets confused by the day or time.
After talking with a family friend whose daughter was a Special Olympics athlete, Jacques started competing with Special Olympics Ontario at age 13. He tried bowling but stuck with basketball and baseball, jokingly saying, “I don’t like running but I’m 6’3″ so I’m good at basketball.”
Whether it be at recess or in the community, Jacques found it troubling to fit in as a child. While playing the games, the other kids would change the rules on him, and he would often get confused. “It’s why I always wanted a sport because I like playing sports. I wanted to belong to a team,” Jacques says about what it meant once he started Special Olympics. Success on the field of play helped Jacques build confidence in his abilities and he’s brought that confidence to all areas of his life.
When he’s not participating in sports, he is working. Starting in high school, participating in a co-op program Jacques found a job he excelled at. Now, many years later he is still there.
“Here in Canada, it’s a class in high school,” Marcel Jacques says about his son taking the co-op class. “They try to put the students in community job placements and his placement was Sobeys. He got credit for it and after high school, he has continued to work there.”
During work hours, Jacques is a jack of all trades helping wherever his colleagues need him. “I don’t really have a title,” he says. “I do everything but working with knives and money. What I mostly do is grocery and dairy.” He knows his limitations and because of that he says laughing, “I don’t work with the money because if I did, we’d be bankrupt.”
“Sobeys is supportive because they hire lots of people that have challenges across 1,600 stores,” Jacques says. He starts going into detail about his daily duties at work and describes how his colleagues modify and adapt to his needs. “My colleagues show me different ways to do tasks, so that I can still do my job,” he continues. “They are super supportive so if I have to ask questions I can, and they show me right away.”
“It gives him a sense of worth and value and that’s huge for him,” Jacques’ dad says. “To be an active member of society, you have to work. We all have bills to pay and to pay them you need to work.”
“As a Special Olympics Canada partner since 2016, Sobeys has contributed more than $5.4 million in food and funds,” it reads on the Special Olympics Canada website. In addition to finding an inclusive and accepting workplace, Jacques enjoys working at Sobeys because of its longstanding support of the organization that helped him build his confidence.
Stressing that people with intellectual disabilities can do whatever they set their mind to if they have the proper support, Jacques acknowledges his success as an author would not have been possible without his family.
“We have the family team,” Jacques says about their impact. “Once I wrote my book, my dad edited it first, then my sister edited it and then we had an actual editor help me find some words. But also, my sister is a graphic designer, so she helped me design the book and some of our friends are good at art.” He adds, “it was a five-year process.”
Without his family, there is a good chance he would never have become published. He speaks highly of the process and how important it is that people without a voice are given one. If he can impact just one other person with an intellectual disability, then the book is a success.
Jacques’ first published book “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book” focuses on his life, told through the perspective of having autism. His second book “I Belong: Can I Play?” shares about his childhood and the difficulties people with intellectual disabilities may have interacting with people their age. It focuses on inclusion and friendship, along with the importance of belonging.
“His insights and views on the world are equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring,” it reads on his website. “Through his witty and positive voice, Michael offers a glimpse on what it’s like to be him.”
He pushes forward and aims to shatter the barriers that are in his way, starting with one of the most important aspects of his life. When talking to Special Olympics athletes his message is clear, “don’t give up, I learned how to think and ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but always aim to inspire.”
It’s the confidence he’s learned from training and competing with Special Olympics that transitioned to the co-op program, the work force and most importantly why he decided to write a book.
“At my high school, there’s a great program called ‘Reaction for Inclusion’ and it helped me to go back to my school and talk and have a voice,” Jacques says about the moment he got started sharing his story public speaking and eventually authoring his two books.
When he discusses the future, he doesn’t rule out the possibility of a third book. “All I want is to belong and we all want to be a part of a team,” Jacques says. He aims to send that message to youth through public speaking and writing, saying, “it’s okay to be different. Everybody is different.”
It’s a friendly reminder that Jacques is making an impact, with his words, even though he doesn’t read or write. Something he’s accomplished with the support of his family, Sobeys and Special Olympics.
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