Being a part of the life of a school, graduating and becoming employed are things that most students want. Inclusive education means going to school in your neighbourhood, with your friends, attending classes that the whole student body attends. When you have a disability, this is often difficult and in some cases being truly included does not happen. I first met Michael at the Welland Pelham Chamber of Commerce Ruby awards last year. Michael was nominated for a Youth Citizen of the Year award. Being recognized by your peers and community is not only a great honor but you have to be outstanding, and this award is truly the most difficult one in which to pick a winner as all the nominees deserve it. One year later, while attending the Reaction for Inclusion conference hosted by Community Living Ontario, I met Michael again. Michael was a part of the planning committee for this event. Reaction for Inclusion brings together students who believe in inclusion for all. The main focus is the inclusion of students with disabilities.
Michael got up and shared his story from struggles to his successes. His message was clear – never give up and be yourself. Being bullied and struggling academically were topics most people in the audience could relate to. But for Michael, this turned into something else. Being an advocate for himself and others was a direction that came out of his struggle.
At first, when Michael started high school he was in a self contained class. Michael soon realized that this was not for him. He also decided that he wanted to graduate with a high school diploma. With the help of his parents, Michael started classes and is well on his way to graduation. Both Michael and his parents commend the school for the work they are doing on accommodation and modification with the curriculum. Advocacy has been another important part of high school life. Michael gives this great analogy – it’s like the movie “Limitless“, you can only see and use 80% but once you take the special pill you are using and seeing 100% of your abilities. When you start advocating and talking people have a different approach and can see other possibilities.
One of the biggest benefits of being included and having natural connections is relationships that happen. Michael and Daniel Tisi have been friends for the past 17 years. When asked, Daniel tells us that they have been friends since Michael moved next door to the Tisi family 17 years ago. As with most friendships, it is based on common interests such as movies and video games and just enjoying hanging out. Daniel reflects on Michael’s humor and optimism. As with all friends there are times when they disagree, but the disagreements are always easily worked out. It’s safe to say that hard work, optimism and humor are contagious and Daniel and Michael look forward to these shared moments.
Not only is Michael on his way to graduation, he is working at Sobeys in Fonthill. This started out as a co-op placement in school and they wanted him on their team. Ron Kore, Franchisee, has nothing but greats things to say about Michael: “He is such a positive person, it’s a quality that is infectious to other employees.” Michael is a valued team member and even helps train other students when they are there on co-op. Michael’s work ethic and glass half full philosophy has helped to opened the door to others.
Michael has shown what perseverance, advocacy and being included early on can do to help obtain all those things in life that we all want.