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CBID Conversations: Spencer West Speaks With PMG About Making Work More Accessible

2 MINUTE READ | June 17, 2022

CBID Conversations: Spencer West Speaks With PMG About Making Work More Accessible

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Maddie Ewell

Maddie Ewell is an Influencer and Branded Content Associate at PMG, supporting the development and execution of influencer campaigns and managing the creation of branded content. She also supports the team’s Trends Report Task Force, providing clients with a monthly pulse check on industry and social trends and conversations. Maddie joined PMG via the company’s Graduate Leadership Program and worked on PMG’s paid social team for two years prior to joining the influencer team.

As part of our ‘DIG in’ speaker series and in celebration of Pride month, PMG was joined by disability and LGBTQ+ advocate and motivational speaker Spencer West, where he shared his life story, the lessons he’s learned, and what people can do to make the world a better place for those with disabilities. 

Having lost both legs from the pelvis down at the age of five, Spencer was told by doctors that he would never be able to sit up or walk by himself. And worse, that he would likely never be a functioning member of society. Rather than accept this prognosis, he dedicated his life to redefining what it looks like to live at the intersection of queer and disabled. To date, he has summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, built schools in Kenya and India, opened for Demi Lovato’s World Tour, and gained 4.2 million followers on TikTok, with TikTok naming him an LGBTQ+ TikTok Creator Trailblazer.

During our session with Spencer, he shared with us the most inspiring moments of his life journey, dispelled common myths about people with disabilities, and informed us about how we can better support the disabled community. 

For many with a disability, entering the workforce can be rather challenging. As a teenager and young adult, Spencer faced rejection after rejection as he searched for his first job while his equally-skilled yet non-disabled peers advanced to the final interview rounds and accepted offers. Companies were hesitant to hire Spencer, assuming his accommodations would be costly, or that he wouldn’t be capable of fulfilling the role. When Spencer finally earned his first opportunity with the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, he needed just one $30 accommodation—a stool with a cushion, so he could sit more comfortably rather than stand.

As Spencer outlined in his presentation, while companies typically underestimate the value and skills of disabled talent, they overestimate the costs to support any potential accommodations. In reality, 80 percent of workplace accommodations cost less than $500, and 57 percent are completely cost-free. Further, research shows that inclusive workplaces lead to invaluable improvements in innovation, productivity, and morale, all while improving access to diverse markets and customers. Employees like Spencer also have an important competitive advantage: “[They can] talk about things and go into spaces that no one else [can].”

If companies continue to bypass disabled talent, they’re missing out on a significantly large pool of untapped talent and disposable income. After all, 61 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability. 

Spencer shared that people with disabilities are“just looking for an opportunity. Someone to recognize the skills that [they] have to contribute to a team and an organization…To be noticed and seen as equal to [their] non-disabled counterparts. And what stops [them] is all of those myths.”

So, what can we do as allies? Spencer shared steps that we can all take, both in our workplaces and communities, to better support our disabled peers.

In the workplace, this could look like: 

  • Rewriting job descriptions with more inclusive, accessibility-friendly language

  • Hiring a DEI specialist to consult on improving accessibility within the company

  • Creating an internal action committee to champion accessibility and allyship among team members

  • Celebrating disability pride in July

  • Allowing for work-from-home arrangements and flexible schedules

  • Changing break times to be longer than ten to 15 minutes

  • Enabling voice dictation technology for emails, memos, and other communications

  • Accommodating personal assistants in the office 

Across our communities, we can advocate for local businesses to be more accessible, acknowledge ableism, and most importantly, recognize the humanity in a disabled person, first and foremost, not just their disability.

Spencer left us with this powerful quote from Judy Heumann that ended his presentation: “It is no longer acceptable to not have women at the table. It is no longer acceptable to not have people of color at the table, but no one thinks to see if the table is accessible.”

Thank you, Spencer, for sharing your story and inspiring us all!

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Each month at PMG, our ‘DIG In’ speaker series welcomes speakers with diverse backgrounds to PMG to spark meaningful conversations that celebrate diverse people, voices, perspectives, and experiences, as part of our ongoing efforts to build a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity (CBID).

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