On Sunday, June 9, 2019, Ali Stroker took home a Tony award for Best Actress in a musical on Broadway.
There are so many great things about this woman’s Tony win. But it’s not just the usual stuff – person with disability forges the way, first wheelchair user succeeds on Broadway, kids (and adults) with disabilities learn to dream big – that makes the victory so important.
There’s one big thing that we’ve lost focus on regarding her win. Take a look at the role for which she won her award: Ado Annie in “Oklahoma.” That musical has been around for a long time. I’ve seen portions of the movie and even performed in the chorus myself when our high school did it during my freshman year.
Ado Annie is a main character. And in all of the iterations of the musical that I have seen, she has never been in a wheelchair.
Ali Stroker didn’t win her Tony playing a role that was developed for a person in a wheelchair. She won playing a role that’s been around for decades and that, as far as I know, wasn’t originally imagined or developed for someone in a wheelchair.
When parents of special needs kids dream of their kids being able to participate in life just like those with regular abilities, it’s this kind of win that we’re dreaming about.
We don’t want our kids recognized just because they’re doing things in a wheelchair that other people do standing up. We want our kids recognized – regardless of how they physically navigate through the world – for doing the exact same things that other people do standing up: excelling at their craft and being the best at something.
Too often, special needs kids get special treatment because they move around differently than others. But the wheelchair, the braces, the walker, the cane – these are all just tools to help our kids navigate the world. It doesn’t change who the child is, nor does it affect the potential of the child. And it doesn’t change the fact that the child has abilities and skills that deserve to be nurtured in exactly the same way that their able-bodied peers are.
This is absolutely a moment to celebrate. But let’s be sure to celebrate it in its entirety.
Congratulations to Stroker for her huge win that celebrates an undeniable talent.
Congratulations to the show’s casting crew and designers who saw beyond her chair and instead considered her abilities first and foremost, rather than her disabilities.
And congratulations to everyone associated with the show for teaching the world not to confine people with different abilities to boxes designed specifically for them, and for instead acknowledging that people in chairs can reach just as high as people on two feet.
Here’s Titus riding his bike down our street. Just like every other kid.