Artists are using their wheelchairs to showcase their talent

Until this past winter, Broadway had never featured an actor or actress who uses a wheelchair. This may be unsurprising to some of our readers, as the popular theater community has recently been criticized for its lack of diversity. Responding to the lack of people with disabilities featured on Broadway, Interim Director for Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts Howard Sherman, stated that, “There’s no question that it’s time. 20% of Americans have disabilities. But on stage and on film and TV, they are largely unseen.”

Ali Stroker broke new ground on Broadway as the first actress to use a wheelchair, as a member of Deaf West Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening. Deaf West Theatre works to provide cultural opportunities and experiences for Deaf people and people who are hard-of-hearing. Their production of Spring Awakening has been a major hit. It originally premiered in California, the home of Deaf West Theatre, and debuted on Broadway this past winter. Their website states, “Deaf West’s innovative new production took this already revolutionary musical to electrifying new heights by choreographing sign language into the production, intensifying the rift between the lost and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them.” Hopefully Stroker will just be the first of many actors who use wheelchairs to debut on Broadway.

In the meantime, artists who use wheelchairs are showcasing their talents in Los Angeles as well. Infinite Flow is a professional wheelchair ballroom dance company. The company was founded in 2015 by Marisa Hamamoto. Hamamtoto had already spent two decades of her life dancing when she became paralyzed from the neck down while recovering from spinal cord infarction. She was not prepared to give up her love of dance, and began dancing with her wheelchair. One of Infinite Flow’s participants stated that, “People often ask me what’s the hardest thing about being in a wheelchair, and I have to say, it’s other people’s perceptions that I can’t do something.” Being a member of the wheelchair dance company is a way for individuals who use wheelchairs to build their confidence and express themselves. Hamamoto states that Infinite Flow wants “to show the world that wheelchair dancing can be beautiful.”

Below is a video from Infinite Flow’s Veterans Kick-Off Dance Party event.

This video may begin with a commercial which was not chosen by or for the benefit of Rooted in Rights.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.