Photo of Michael with his family.

Debbie, Michael, Kaila (sister) and Marcel Jacques.

Finding his voice changed everything: This is Michael’s story.

Debbie Jacques still recalls a discussion she and her son, Michael, had about a time he experienced exclusion in school.

“‘You know, mom, I am standing in the circle with the girls, but I might as well be invisible, because they are not including me,’” he told his mother, which left Debbie feeling sad. While this situation was not representative of Michael’s overall experience at school, it demonstrates the importance of having the opportunity to find your own voice.

Today, Michael is an advocate, guest speaker, valued employee at Sobeys, and soon to-be-author. These important roles were difficult for Michael’s parents to envision for their son initially when he was a young child and diagnosed with having autism and a developmental disability. For Michael’s dad, Marcel, learning of his son’s diagnosis and what that could mean for his school life was difficult at first.

“As a parent, you worry so much about the future,” said Marcel, “but I should have waited because he proved he was able to do so much more.”

With support from his family and educators, Michael overcame the barriers of not being able to read or write, and he graduated from high school. While he was still in high school, Michael became involved with Re:Action4Inclusion, which created further opportunities for him.

For the last nine years, Community Living Ontario’s youth initiative has helped to empower thousands of youth across the province to imagine a world of authentic inclusion and provide them with the necessary tools to take individual and collective action to make their schools and communities more inclusive.

Re:Action4Inclusion’s annual Leadership Summit, which Michael first attended in 2009, brings together students, educators, and community allies to help participants foster thoughtful conversations around disability and enhance the abilities of the group. It helps them to recognize their capacity to transform their schools and communities when they return home.

As a Community Living Ontario donor, you are supporting youth like Michael to be included and to reach their full potential.

Michael’s experience with Re:Action4Inclusion was a pivotal point in his life. Sharon Phillips, who supported Michael while he attended Notre Dame College High School in Welland, encouraged him to attend the summit. The experience helped him to find his voice.

“Michael shared at this conference the feelings he had on how he was treated [and] what he hoped for others, and my jaw dropped looking at him and his empowerment,” she remembers fondly. “He spoke like he had been doing it forever.”

Before this event, Michael felt concerned about speaking up because he believed that he was the only one struggling or feeling different. While attending the Re:Action4Inclusion summit, Michael quickly discovered that other youth, both with and without a disability, had their own struggles, and that some schools were less inclusive than his own. Discovering that he wasn’t alone gave him the confidence to begin to use his voice for positive change.

After this pivotal weekend, Michael returned to his high school with a new perspective. He was empowered to see how he could make his school more inclusive. He spoke with his principal and asked why his basketball team was not included in the yearbook, why the team did not get to participate in pep rallies, and why they didn’t participate in the teacher-student basketball games.

In using his newfound confidence and skills from Re:Action4Inclusion, Michael changed all of this. As Michael says, “It didn’t have to be me playing, but I just wanted people like me to have a voice and to be represented in everything at the school.”

Michael later became an ally for the Re:Action4Inclusion initiative, touring the province and talking to students about the impact they could have in their own schools. Today, he is a member of Community Living Ontario’s Board of Directors. Look for his book Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book. to be released later this year.

Re:Action4Inclusion’s annual Leadership Summit brings together approximately 150 high school students from across Ontario. As part of the initiative’s 10th anniversary, we want to increase the summit’s attendance to 200 students with a little help from donors like you!

“I still talk to kids who attended the summit years ago and they always come back to that weekend and say it was life-changing,” adds Phillips, “it changed the way they see themselves and their understanding of how success is shared with others in life.”

Your support of Community Living Ontario has helped the Re:Action4Inclusion movement grow and has positively changed the perceptions of youth across the province on what inclusion looks like.

Create further possibilities for young people by helping them participate in this life-changing weekend! All online donations will receive an automatic tax receipt.