Michael Jacques is an author and an advocate for people with disabilities regionally and nationally throughout Canada. He wrote his first book, Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book, entirely through speech-to-text technology. In this episode Michael shares his journey with autism and disability, his personal challenges and successes, and the power of perseverance. Michael is a popular guest speaker with over 400 presentations; visit heresmybook.com for more information.
00:00:00 Johnandrew Slominski
Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of the Autism Annex Podcast. I'm your host, Johnandrew Slominski. Let's start with a brief thought experiment. Think about an achievement, a milestone in many young people's lives: graduating high school. And aside from the specifics, the math, the history, the exams, consider also some of the less obvious skills. It's probably easy to overlook two of them: reading and writing.
Now consider the skills necessary to be an author, to publish a book. Pretty essential skills, reading and writing, wouldn't you agree? For my guest Michael Jacques, who has autism and an intellectual disability, the answer is, well, no.
00:00:49 Michael Jacques
My first book is called “Can't Read, Can't Write, Here's My Book.” It's a good title because I can't read or write. That's how honest I am in the book.
00:00:58 Johnandrew Slominski
That is a great title.
Welcome, Michael. I've been looking forward to this conversation and thank you for being here.
00:01:04 Michael Jacques
00:01:06 Johnandrew Slominski
Michael, let's start with the basics. What are three things that you'd like people to know about you?
00:01:13 Michael Jacques
I'm friendly, outgoing and good looking!
00:01:20 Marcel Jacques
He gets his good looks from his dad, so let's just clarify a few things here.
00:01:25 Johnandrew Slominski
By the way, listeners Michael is joined by his dad, Marcel, who you'll hear chime in periodically. I don't think Marcel would mind me saying: he is as big a champion of Michaels as you can possibly imagine and is absolutely irrepressible when it comes to his pride in his son. Back to Michael.
Michael, the title of your first book is in the title of this episode, and it's pretty extraordinary, I have to say, could you tell us a little bit about it?
00:01:56 Michael Jacques
Yeah, sure. It's my life story. I have autism and an intellectual disability, and I can't read or write. And I always wanted to write a book without read and write, obviously. So I wanted to see if anything's possible. So that's what I did. I rote with using assistive technology and just to show you it is possible with hard work and dedication. And is this basically about my life growing up all the way till I'm 20, like at time 21. I'm 31 now, but it just five years of Daily Journal was my first book. And just basically talk about my life.
00:02:35 Marcel Jacques
His first book is an autobiography, and as he said, a daily journal, and he did that for five years. You have to stop and think about that, he was motivated and, you know, he spoke about what motivated him. You know, he can't read or write, but he was using assistive technology using speech to text and that was that's what got him to the, you know that end product of that first book of his and showing people that all things are possible.
00:03:05 Johnandrew Slominski
Michael, does your dad have that about right? I'd like to ask you about your high school experience. You graduated without reading or writing. Is that right? Could you explain how you did it?
00:03:20 Michael Jacques
Yes, for sure. So we knew how to think. Well, I thought outside the box because it would be great program for Community Ontario have a great program called React for inclusion. It helps to show off the conclusion leaving school and their communities make differences and what happened was they helped me to find my voice. So there was a part where they were talking about graduation and a meeting that talks about graduation and certificates because all the times people, times get certificates. And what happened was we would have a meeting and say, OK, Michael, we're gonna have a certificate for you. And I said, well, wait, wait, I want to have a high school diploma. So we had a great conversation and my parents and the teacher, and we had a great conversation and we decided to do different things differently. I had to do geography twice. I did the first semester, first half, second semester, the second-half again. It's credits that way lots of oral presentations with help from staff, students and technology. It took me 5, it took me 7 years to graduate. Sometimes typically takes 7 years, four years to graduate, but it just took over time and a lot of hard work for everybody. I got my high school diploma, I thought outside the box. And I graduated to go to work.
00:04:43 Johnandrew Slominski
Marcel, as a parent, how did you see the many logistics and necessary supports align to support Michael in his goal of graduation?
00:04:55 Marcel Jacques
I think Michael sort of touched in on quite a few things in that conversation. Michael mentioned Community Living in Ontario. So that is an organization, a provincial organization, that their mandate is to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities live thrives and survive in their own communities. But Michael is referring to a program that's offered from the provincial community organization club React for inclusion. And it's a program for high school kids. They got together for a weekend conference. They have well, workshops and leadership, but more importantly, workshops on authentic inclusion. So at the end of the weekend, they send the kids back to their high schools to see how they can make their high schools more inclusive. And better yet, how they can make their communities more inclusive. So what an awesome program. So Michael went to this first one in grade 10. So Michael comes back to our community, found his voice. We're at a meeting at his high school with the specialist with the teachers, with the resource teachers of his high school. He was involved, we were involved and when at that table and we were talking about, you know, Michael, to get a certificate. He said, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, I want to get a high school diploma like everyone else.
00:06:13 Johnandrew Slominski
You wanted the real deal!
00:06:14 Marcel Jacques
He wants the real deal.
00:06:15 Michael Jacques
I'm gonna do the work, I want the real deal.
00:06:18 Marcel Jacques
So he used his voice. So, you know, all of us are at the table. You know, Michael knows about achievable goals, you know, achievable goals are so important. So we have to set an achievable goal for him to reach.So for achievable goals to happen, you know, you have to..
00:06:35 Michael Jacques
Have three things. You have the students. Theparents, the parents and the teachers, or the educators on board to have it work. Because if they don't have all three, it won't work. And it's sometimes you may have to have a hard conversation with the students. Then there's also parents, and there's lots of times where educators, educators are very important. But lots of times, educators want the best for the students, and they want them to work hard. So things like that.
00:07:08 Marcel Jacques
So at that, that meeting in grade 10, the focus was on the world of work. We all knew Michael was going to the world of work after high school.
00:07:17 Michael Jacques
I wasn’t going to be a mathemagician.
00:07:18 Marcel Jacques
No, he wasn't going to be a mathemagician. So he was going to the world of work, so the conversation was how could we make this work? So let's set up his program so you can successfully enter the world of work after his school.
00:07:33 Johnandrew Slominski
Michael, you mentioned setting achievable goals and how that's an important part of your success. What are some achievable goals that you've set and how do you define success for yourself?
00:07:49 Michael Jacques
So set up for success. You know, for me, I wrote like I wrote books and I also have a job. So these so that all those are success for me that I have because of also for school I gave co-op program and helped me to be achievable to get a job at the high school as well and things of that. So just basically whatever you would like to do doesn't matter. What it is, is whatever you would like to do, you have to follow steps to be achievable, to do it and when you think you got what you and whatever stands for. Whoever, whoever's listening, whoever that is. For me with writing the book, getting a job. And I successfully get all those things and more that so.
00:08:41 Marcel Jacques
So Michael mentioned Sobeys. Sobeys is a grocery chain here in Canada and he got that job in a Co-op placement in high school and he's been there ever since. 13 years, 13 years working at Sobeys.
00:08:55 Johnandrew Slominski
So you and your family have first-hand experience with Sobeys as an employer. What are they doing right in terms of employing people with disabilities?
:09:07 Marcel Jacques
You know what a great organization. A lot of organizations fear hiring people with challenges because they think it's going to cost them money.
00:09:18 Michael Jacques
Money, and also, too, is that they think, How am I supposed to have the job safe for people with challenges? And how can I make work for people with challenges? They don't know how to make it work and things like that. So, but it's my opinion is this basically just it's very easy to make work and things that's very successful. And you can work. It just you have to think about it, you know.
00:09:53 Marcel Jacques
Will some employees require some modifications? Sure, and some accommodations absolutely. But with those accommodations they could be very successful, they could be a very productive employee within an organization and I think here in Canada Sobeys, that grocery chain, they've recognized that.
00:10:13 Johnandrew Slominski
Could you talk a little bit about how Sobeys has been helpful for you as an employee, Michael, to be successful in your job and also how they've worked to understand your learning style?
00:10:26 Speaker 2
For me, it's visual learnings. I visualize. So for me at work, my boss Ron, he makes like who might like got the stock shelves or he get somebody to help me out and he they place maybe a couple things on the shelf like cereal or some of that. And he did say Michael put this cereal here and the then the three rolls this way and he puts what he wants from me. And he said, Michael, do you got it? I said yes. And then he sees I he put a couple on the shelves, so he saw that you got it and then you leave me. He was OK, Michael we’re good. So things like that, just basically I'm a I'm a visual and hands on kind of person obviously. But those are the things that work for me, like everything that was hands on school I worked very good at. I just mean everybody has their own ways, but visual always has worked the best for me.
00:11:27 Johnandrew Slominski
You spend a lot of your time giving back to your community locally, provincially and nationally throughout Canada. Give us a snapshot of what your volunteer work looks like.
00:11:41 Speaker 2
OK locally I'm, I'm part of my local Rotary clubs. Very important in the Community and so I've been part of that. And also I'm the President for Community Ontario. There's two terms I'm on my second term. And I'm the first person who has lived experience and the youngest to help out, and I think there's 106 or organizations in it and also there is called Maxi Special education and been part of that and talked to the Minister and things that, things about special education, our middle school to high school for across the province as well. And also part of federally and part of Inclusion Canada and it's equivalent to community living Ontario.
00:12:54 Marcel Jacques
So Michael has mentioned Community living Ontario. He's the president. And now if you know anything about Canada, the province of Ontario is geographically very large and he's the 1st as he said in 68 years that has that has lived experience. Now, what does it mean? By lived experience it means that he lives with a disability day in and day out of his life. So we're actually very proud of Michael in his second year of doing that. You know, research shows that it's much better to include people with challenges in their own communities as opposed to segregate. The local Member of Parliament, the federal one, knows. Michael very well too. You see? They've realized that Michael has a very strong voice. He will speak on behalf of people with challenges. He is not fearful of having that conversation, so he shares what it's like to be him. So there's a lot of issues provincially around special education in the province so Michael, even though he's been out of education, still has a huge impact on what's happening in special education in Ontario.
00:13:59 Johnandrew Slominski
When you do this important advocacy work, Michael, what's the message that you want politicians and community leaders to hear?
00:14:10 Speaker 2
That we have value and worth and think outside the box and there's more than one thing. There's one more than one way to do things, and that's pretty much it, and just treat everybody with their compassion and everybody has. And they can bring, everybody can bring something to the table.
00:14:36 Johnandrew Slominski
My guests on today's episode have been Michael Jacques and his father Marcel. Michael and Marcel, thanks so much for taking time to share your story with us on the podcast.
00:14:48 Michael Jacques
Thank you very much Johnandrew.
00:14:50 Speaker 1
If you'd like to learn more about Michael, please visit his website heresmybook.com, where you can reach out to him, purchase his books in English and in French, and follow his many successes. The Autism Annex podcast was developed by STAR Autism support. I'm your host, Johnandrew Slominski. If you like what you've heard on this episode, please consider sharing the podcast with a friend who might also enjoy it. Until next time, take good care of yourself—and one another.