On Sunday night, Ali Stroker became the first person who uses a wheelchair to be nominated for and win a Tony Award.
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena — you are,” Ms. Stroker said while accepting her statuette for her role as Ado Annie in the Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma!.”
In addition to thanking the musical’s cast, she thanked “her home team” — “my best friends, who have held my hands and pulled me around New York City for years helping me.”
[Read highlights from the Tony Awards.]
Ms. Stroker, a 31-year-old New Jersey native who lost the use of her legs in a car accident when she was 2 years old, also thanked her parents “for teaching me to use my gifts to help people.”
“I love you,” she told them. “We did it!”
Ms. Stroker accepted the award, for best featured actress, shortly after dazzling the audience with her saucy performance of the “Oklahoma!” song “I Cain’t Say No.”
A ramp had not been built to the stage, but Ms. Stroker was still backstage, in the wings, from the performance when her category was announced.
After her win, Ms. Stroker told reporters that Broadway theaters are generally accessible to audience members with disabilities, but backstage areas are not.
“I would ask theater owners and producers to really look into how they can begin to make the backstage accessible so that performers with disabilities can get around,” she said.
“I find it to be fascinating that often people don’t think I can dance,” she said. “Who says that dance isn’t turning on wheels? Who says dancing isn’t throwing your arms up in the air and grabbing someone else’s arms to be propelled across the stage?”
She’s been active in theater since she was 7, when she was cast by a neighbor as the titular role in a backyard production of “Annie.”
“I really just have always felt like I belonged on stage,” she said. “And once I got into theater, I really wanted to figure out the dancing part.”
“I know what it’s like to not be able to move,” she said, “so in many ways the opportunity to move is a gift for me.”
She also spoke about what it is like to aspire to succeed in an industry where people with disabilities are not represented. “I’m very aware that when I was a little girl I wasn’t seeing anybody like me, and on days when I’m exhausted or discouraged about something, that lights a fire,” she said. “I hope that for young people in chairs who feel that this is too hard, that they see that being in a chair is like getting a secret key to an unknown door — that they see what I’m doing and are reassured that anything is possible.”
At the Tony Awards, Ms. Stroker said she has heard from many young performers who shared that they were motivated by seeing her on Broadway.
“It makes me feel amazing to be able to be that for them,” Ms. Stroker said, “because I didn’t have that as an 11-year-old girl pursuing this dream.”
Julia Jacobs contributed reporting.