Ali Stroker is only 28 years old, but she has made Broadway history by becoming the first actor to use a wheelchair.
Stroker, who become paralyzed after a car accident at age 2, is a featured player in Spring Awakening.
According to Howard Sherman, the interim director for Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, “To the best of our knowledge, there’s been no one before her.” He adds that it's possible an actor centuries ago may have appeared in plays in a wheelchair, but Stroker is the first we know with certainty. He continues by saying, “There’s no question that it’s time. 20% of Americans have disabilities. But on stage and on film and TV, they are largely unseen.”
Stroker agrees with Sherman and says, “Broadway theaters by law have to be accessible for audience members with disabilities. It should be the same for someone in the show.”
The Deaf West Theatre, where Spring Awakening is being performed, ensured that Stroker's dressing room was in compliance with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some of the improvements included enlarging the bathroom, adding a ramp, and installing handrails.
When asked about being in a wheelchair, Stroker said, "A life-altering experience when you’re young doesn’t feel life-altering," adding that being wheelchair-bound "has allowed me to always think creatively."
Stroker's first foray onto the stage occurred 21 years ago when she played the title role in a small production of Annie. In high school, she took on the roles of Cosette in Les Miserables and Maria in West Side Story. She went on to study at New York University, where she had a role in Pippin. She has also had roles on television in Glee and The Glee Project, and her latest gig was a role in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.