Spencer West © Photos by Ryan Bolton Photography 2021
By Allie Murray
At the age of five, Spencer West lost both legs from the pelvis down due to a genetic disease. Having to learn how to navigate a world set against those with disabilities, he began his mission to redefine what living with disabilities meant, showcasing that he—and anyone—could do whatever they put their mind to.
Today, West works as a motivational speaker, a content creator, and a disability and LGBTQ+ activist.
Over the course of his life, West never aspired to be a motivational speaker. However, in 2008, he went on a volunteer trip to East Africa and had the opportunity to spend time with the kids of the school they were visiting. It was an opportunity that changed his life.
“They were eager to learn all about me and asked many of the questions I have been asked my whole life, ‘What happened to your legs?’ ‘How do you go to the bathroom?’ ‘Can you drive a car?’ But at the end, after answering all their inquiries, a young girl raised her hand and when translated from Swahili said, ‘I didn’t know that this sort of thing’ meaning the loss of my legs ‘could happen to white people too.’ That sentence stopped me cold,”
After returning from Africa, West quit his corporate job in Arizona and moved to Canada to work with the organization he had been volunteering with and began his journey as a motivational speaker, later starting his own business both as a speaker and content creator.
West’s story quickly inspired everyone he spoke with, which led him to opening for Demi Lovato’s 2014 World Tour, starring in the documentary “Redefine Possible: The Story of Spencer West,” writing and publishing a
memoir titled “Standing Tall: My Journey,” and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Similarly, West’s story took the social media world by storm, garnering him 179,000 followers on Instagram and 3.7 million followers on TikTok.
“One of the positive things about social media is that it allows you to access and connect with a global audience,” West shared. “For many folks with disabilities that has become a very important tool to telling our stories and discussing the barriers we face. But truthfully, social media is the wild west, you never know what people are going to like and what content will do well. For me, as long as my content has a mixture of heart, humour, honesty, and awareness, I’ve done my job.”
A driving force for West as he began his content creation and motivational speaking career was to show others that they weren’t alone.
“Any time I receive feedback from a young person or adult disabled or nondisabled that says I empowered them to come out or live their life more authentically, that’s what really touches my heart,” he said. “Growing up in a small town in Wyoming in the 90’s there was almost zero queer representation on tv, in the media or elsewhere, especially when it came to queer disabled folks. I hope I can be another face in the crowd that says we exist, you’re not alone and when you’re ready we’ll be here with open arms because your life has meaning and value.”
In his speeches, West encourages audiences to redefine possibility and embrace the mindset that anyone can overcome obstacles.