Meet Jess Silver (BA English Literature ’11)

Meet Jess Silver (BA English Literature ’11)

Turning words into action for people with disabilities

With a thriving communications career, two books and five languages under her belt, and a passion for high-performance fitness and sports, Jess Silver knows the hard work and dedication that goes into reaching your dreams.

Despite these many achievements however, Jess’s journey has not been without challenges. As a person with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, she has experienced and witnessed many of the physical and structural barriers that exist for people with disabilities like herself, particularly when accessing fitness and sports facilities and services.

Now, she’s turning words into action through Flex for Access, the non-profit organization she founded to advocate for equal access to adaptive fitness for people with disabilities worldwide.

“We all deserve the opportunity to engage in exercise and sport, regardless of our physical limitations,” says Jess. “Fitness plays such an important role in my life. Once I recognized the glaring gaps in awareness and accessibility for people like me, I knew I had the responsibility to do something about it.”

Starting as a social media campaign in 2015, Flex For Access – which references the muscle tightness that impacts people with cerebral palsy – was created to raise awareness of the challenges facing people with disabilities wishing to participate in fitness and sport.

“Many mainstream facilities like gyms and community centres are not equipped to accommodate people with disabilities, forcing us to rely on hospitals and other specialized health clinics. My goal is to create a pathway for those with cerebral palsy or other disabilities to enjoy the same experience as everyone else; a world where anyone can go to any facility and face zero barriers.”

Jess’s campaign took the online community by storm, reaching people as far as Brazil, Israel and Australia. Seeing the unbelievable response, she formally registered as a charity and is now busy attracting donors, securing partnerships with brands and athletes, and raising support for adaptive equipment and facilitating fitness opportunities for people with disabilities.

And though her toolkit today is vast, it’s her innate writing skills that Jess leans on most as she brings this issue to the forefront through content creation, brand building and marketing. “I’ve been writing short stories, poems and prose since I was just six years old, and thanks to my experiences at Glendon and beyond, I’m now able to apply those skills towards telling this story and making this dream a reality.”

Jess says she chose to attend Glendon due to its small campus size, which made it more accessible for her compared to larger schools, and the world-class academic experience she could count on to set her up for success.

“My Glendon professors helped me interrogate words from new angles and look deeper into the text. These lessons shaped how I wrote from then on. Glendon was also a nurturing ground for unexpected skills like communication, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship. I’ve carried these with me and am using them to make my impact through my day-to-day work.”

Beyond being the basis for Flex for Access, Jess’s inspirational story of perseverance and self-discovery also took shape as she achieved one of her most enduring writing goals – authoring her first book, Run: An Uncharted Direction. The memoir has garnered rave reviews since its release in 2020, instilling Jess with motivation to keep writing, with her second book, a compilation of quotes titled Life’s Lava, published shortly after in 2021. 

“We all have stories to tell, and I’m sharing mine with the world in hopes it may make a difference and inspire others to join the conversation around athletic ability and disability.”

Rapid Fire Questions

What is your favourite city in the world and why?

Barcelona is so rich in art, architecture, culture and history. It’s also a very accessible city, so it’s easy for me to visit!

What is your favourite hobby?

It’s a toss-up between writing and working out.

What or who inspires you most?

Athletes like the late Kobe Bryant and Paralympian Amy Purdy. Beyond sport, everything they’ve accomplished in community service, writing, public speaking and even in overcoming adversity has charted a path for me to follow.

If you had one, what would be your motto?

Life’s like an ocean, and you have to dive in head first.

What was your favourite place on campus during your time as a Glendon student?

Glendon Manor. I’m an old soul, and as a heritage site, the Manor has a historical charm unlike anywhere else on campus.