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Actress Ali Stroker on why disability representation is so important: ‘I was constantly looking for people who looked like me’

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Actress Ali Stroker, who is starring in Oklahoma! off-Broadway at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., remembers a time when no one looked like her on stage or TV.

Stroker, who uses a wheelchair, was injured in a car accident when she was 2 years old, paralyzing her from the chest down. She tells Yahoo Lifestyle: “Growing up in a chair, I was constantly looking for people who looked like me. I never saw myself represented onstage or on TV or in the movies.”

It was that lack of representation that gave the girl from Ridgewood, N.J., the inspiration to start acting and singing professionally. “I was like, ‘I want to be a part of that,’” she says.

The 31-year-old adds: “I remember as a kid just moments of hating feeling different, but when I sing, it’s like I’m flying.”

Ali Stroker on <em>The Glee Project</em>. (Photo: Tyler Golden/Oxygen Media/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Ali Stroker on The Glee Project. (Photo: Tyler Golden/Oxygen Media/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

After she graduated from college, the hit TV show Glee came out, which was “exciting” to her since it featured a main character in a wheelchair. When The Glee Project was coming together — a reality show dedicated to finding the next stars on Glee — Stroker auditioned for it. She nabbed a guest-starring role on Glee in 2013.

“Here I am on this set with all of these people who I look up to and admire and respect so much — it was awesome,” she says.

But her milestone moment came in 2015, when Stroker was cast in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening as Ado Annie, becoming the first person who uses a wheelchair to star in a Broadway show. She says it was “a dream come true.”

She says that after the show, the actors would go out the stage door and she would see several young people with disabilities waiting to meet her. “To be a part of that representation where visibility has become mainstream is so awesome,” she says.

Stroker also addresses the discomfort some people feel in talking to people in wheelchairs. “I want someone to know that interacting with somebody in a chair, it doesn’t need to be awkward,” she says. “It doesn’t need to be foreign. Look somebody in the eye. Say hello. Send a smile their way. And oftentimes it breaks the awkwardness, and it really helps.”

For Stroker, who is living her dream, she hopes to inspire other people with disabilities. “I hope that I can be a role model that helps people realize that you can go after whatever you want, no matter what your limitation is,” she says.

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