Ali Stroker wins Tony award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical
photo: Getty Images

Ali Stroker made history last night as the first actor who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. 

The Oklahoma! actor first broke barriers for people with disabilities in the theater community when she performed in Spring Awakening in 2015. She was the first person who uses a wheelchair to act on a Broadway stage ever. 

She has always been an advocate for disability rights and highlighted the lack of representation in her industry. Stroker also called out Kylie Jenner for that controversial and highly offensive wheelchair photo shoot with Interview magazine in 2016. 

Stroker first came into the spotlight when she performed on The Glee Project, a talent-based competition show that hosted theater kids who competed for a chance to guest-star on Ryan Murphy's hit high school show Glee. She came in second place and earned an appearance. She played Emma Pillsbury's (Jayma Mays) niece Betty in a season four episode. 

The Broadway star won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in Oklahoma! as Ado Annie. 

Stroker opened her speech with a powerful recognition of what her record-breaking win symbolized. She dedicated her win to the kids with disabilities who have fewer role models in the entertainment industry. She said, "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."

Stroker plays a modern version of the Southern spitfire Ado Annie. 

The 2019 revival of Oklahoma!, directed by Daniel Fish, took a more modern approach to the 1943 classic musical. This is Stroker's second performance on a Broadway stage. Ahead of their 75th performance, the 31-year-old actor shared this backstage shot in her Ado Annie costume. 

"It’s our 75th performance on Broadway tonight! I’m so proud of our show. I want to thank everyone who’s come to see it, your support is exactly what I need on the days when this is really really hard. I love you all!" 

Her history-making win was an emotional moment for fans. 

Theater buffs and Stroker's fans took to Twitter to recognize the powerful moment that happened on the Tony Awards stage. "I just burst into tears. Seeing an actress in a wheelchair perform in a musical on national television is something I honestly never thought I'd see," one person shared on Twitter. 

The theater community is often regarded as an open and accepting one, but people with disabilities too often don't get a seat at the table. Stroker's win is a huge step forward for representation in the theater industry. 

She revealed to Variety that she wants to be the role model that she never had growing up. 

After her win, Stroker revealed that she was grateful to be the role model that she looked for as a young person. "A lot of my career, when it gets hard, it's not just for me. It's for all of these young people who deserve a role model, like I did when I was 11 years old," she said in an interview. 

"Ali Stroker says she didn't have Broadway role models when she was growing up: 'I know exactly what it's like to be looking for someone who looks like me,'" Variety tweeted. 

One person with a disability shared on Twitter what it meant to be represented by Stroker on the Tony stage. 

"Ali Stroker just became the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award and I'm legit sobbing. As a woman with a disability, this. means. everything," someone wrote on Twitter. Tweets came flooding in after Stroker's win that proved her win was a powerful moment in representation. 

Her accolade was well earned, and her powerhouse vocals paired with her personality made for a perfect Ado Annie. 

Stroker performed her solo song, "I Cain't Say No," on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Her vocals and star presence is a clear indication that this win was well-deserved. 

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Stroker said that her character's famous song was a direct commentary on disability and sexuality. 

"One of my favorite parts about doing this role is that all of a sudden, without needing to talk about it, we were addressing disability and sexuality. People are so unsure about how to tackle these subjects, and what I loved is that we didn’t need to talk about them. We just got to see them in action.

Her Broadway career began with a performance in Spring Awakening. Mashable followed Stroker for a video about her debut and some of her experiences being an actor who uses a wheelchair. 

Stroker revealed how difficult it was for her to be seen when she started out in the theater industry and when she wasn't given a chance to audition because of her disability. The actor has used a wheelchair since a car accident paralyzed her from the chest down at two years old. 

"I don't want to be cast because of my wheelchair. So you hope that you are really seen in an audition room, and you hope that you're given opportunities because of what you're bringing," Stroker said in the video. "At the end of the day, if they're not ready for me, why would I want to be a part of that?" 

With a Tony Award under her belt, I'd say the world is more than ready for Ali Stroker.