Ali Stoker: First Wheelchair User to Win a Tony Award

Ali Stoker
Photo Credit: Associated Press

Whenever we come across something that is game changing for the disability community, we want to shout about it from the rooftops. Why you ask? Because any small ripple of change can lead to a wave of change for the individuals living with disabilities, and our community as a whole, in the future.

This is why you hear us talking a lot about advances in technology. Because the advances in technology happening every day are helping wheelchair users get further than they ever have before, in a much more independent way. And while technology is ever changing and helping wheelchair users pave the way for a better future, Pop Culture has unfortunately proven to be much slower to change.

Pop Culture + Wheelchair Users

Wheelchair users are not often featured as the leading characters in Box Office hits, on television shows or even in Broadway productions. When wheelchair users do get added to the cast of characters, it is likely as a side character or features wheelchair users in an unfavorable or limited capacity. And, many times wheelchair users are depicted by able bodied actors rather than actors with disabilities. (You can see some of this in our infographic.) So, when an actor with a disability wins an award for their role in pop culture, it is something to take note of as extraordinary and special. It is something that will help pave the way for wheelchair users in the future.

Enter the game changing actress and singer, Ali Stoker.

Ali Stoker Wins a Tony Award

Earlier this summer, June 9, 2019 to be exact, Ali Stoker was the first wheelchair user (EVER) to win a Tony Award. She won the prestigious award for her role as Ado Annie in the latest revival of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! directed by Daniel Fish at the Circle in the Square theater in New York City.

And while this is an achievement that is incredibly exciting for any award winner, for Stoker, this meant a lot more, it meant that she was breaking barriers. “What I liked about winning was that it didn’t just feel like, ‘Oh, you did something to overcome being in a chair,’” she told PEOPLE. “It was actually, ‘We’re recognizing you for being at the highest level of your field.’ That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

A Little More About Ali Stoker

Stoker, age 32 and from New Jersey, has mentioned in interviews that she does not remember ever walking, as she became paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident at the age of two. The accident left her with a spinal cord injury and her brother with a traumatic brain injury. What Stoker does remember is that her first wheelchair was red and she started acting at the age of seven.

Her acting career did not truly launch until a much later age, however. Stoker enrolled in NYU’s drama program after High School. Her career took off when she gained national attention on the television show Glee back in 2012 – 2013. Since then she has acted in a variety of roles on television, in movies and most recently on Broadway in New York City.

What This Means for Wheelchair Users

In her acceptance speech Stoker stated, “This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge.” Stoker is one of the many people who are paving the way for a better and brighter future for wheelchair users and the disability community.

When she was first cast as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! the theater was not even equipped to accommodate a wheelchair user in the backstage areas. Since she was cast, the theater has installed ramps on both sides of the stage, a wheelchair lift and also an accessible restroom backstage. While this may seem like something that should be commonplace with ADA standards, for old buildings like the theaters in New York, there is limited space to make these types of changes and many of the buildings are only required to make accessibility changes in areas where the general public may be. When Stoker was cast, the theater made the changes necessary to help her succeed in her role. This leads to hope that other theaters may soon follow.

For Stoker, this win means that more doors will open. Not only for her, but for the disability community as a whole. What this win means for wheelchair users, is a wider acceptance and understanding of wheelchair users. It means that more actors with disabilities may be cast in roles that they may have otherwise been passed over. And it means that Pop Culture is shifting and becoming more accepting of wheelchair users.

Paving the Way for the Future. The Rollx Vans Way.

At Rollx Vans, our team strives to be known more for our support for the disability community, rather than just for our custom wheelchair van selection. We see Ali Stoker’s win as a win for the entire community as a whole and welcome the change it may bring for our customers, their friends, their family members and anything else it may bring. We’ve loved watching the way Pop Culture has started to shift and we cannot wait to see how it continues to evolve in the future with help from actors and actresses like Stoker.

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