Pushing Past Challenges: Performers with Disabilities are Models of Strength and Dedication

Pushing Past Challenges: Performers with Disabilities are Models of Strength and Dedication

Dancers, actors, and musicians work hard to be able to perform effortlessly on stage. Many suffer injuries, endure grueling rehearsals, and put their blood, sweat, and tears into their craft. But what happens when a performer has to overcome another set of challenges?


Breaking into performing arts industries is difficult enough, but physical disabilities create a completely different set of obstacles. Often times, performers with disabilities are discouraged from doing what they love. Though stigmas against those with physical disabilities have decreased in our society, producers are often hesitant to cast someone with a disability or hire them to arrange music. But why? If someone has the talent, drive, and ability to create or perform, the accommodations they require should not matter.

Alex Lacamoire began playing piano at the age of four and fell in love with music. He took inspiration from the performers he saw on MTV and loved how much fun they were having while playing their music. Flash forward, Lacamoire has worked as the Music Director on several productions, including WickedHigh Fidelity, the 2001 tour of Godspell, Stephen Schwartz’s Captain LouieIn the Heights, and, perhaps most famously, Hamilton. He was the Music Supervisor for Dear Evan Hansen and the Executive Music Producer for The Greatest Showman. Lacamoire is a three-time Tony winner, in 2008 for his work on In the Heights and again in 2016 and 2017 for his work in Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, respectively. He also has four Grammy Awards, three Drama Desk Awards, and an Olivier Award. Most recently, Lacamoire was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside his Hamilton colleagues. Mr. Lacamoire was kind enough to answer a few questions about his success and how he overcame his particular struggles to get where he is today.

​“I consider myself very lucky because I have worked very hard to get where I am today,” says Lacamoire. Because he has a long list of credentials and achievements, many are unaware of Alex Lacamoire’s hearing loss.

His mother first noticed her son sitting closely to the TV in order to hear and follow the characters on-screen. He began wearing hearing aids and eventually took classes in school that incorporated sign language. There are times when he is embarrassed by this disability, but Lacamoire tends to focus on the positive.

My love for music and my passion for what I do made me not really think about it.”

— Alex Lacamoire

​​“My love for music and my passion for what I do made me not really think about it,” said Lacamoire when asked about how he overcame his hearing loss. He takes inspiration from his father, who suffered a stroke in his late 30’s. The right side of his body was paralyzed and doctors told him that he would not be able to walk again, let alone wear normal shoes or drive a car. Lacamoire’s father overcame this; he walks, wears normal shoes, and drives using personalized pedals. Much like his father, Lacamoire did not let an impairment stop him from doing the things he wanted to do. This drive serves as an inspiration to young artists, encouraging them to push past their struggles and just keep going.

Alex Lacamoire is not an outlier among artists with disabilities. Though he has years of experience behind his long list of accomplishments, a young dancer has also overcome her odds to continue performing.


“I fight every day,” says seven-year-old Tessa Puma. Tessa is a dancer who performs various genres of dance, such as jazz and hip-hop, at dance competitions. She began experiencing flu-like symptoms and contracted strep throat. After further testing, doctors diagnosed Tessa with a rare disease that required emergency surgery. The infection from the disease forced doctors to amputate the young dancer’s leg. Her parents were hoping she would recover from the surgery but never expected her to walk, let alone dance, again.

Tessa was fitted for various prosthetic legs and went to dance camp with a walker after she found the artificial leg that fit her best. About one year later, she performed onstage at a dance competition and the crowd loved the enthusiasm, drive, and talent of the young dancer. Tessa is yet another example of a performer whose passion for the arts motivated her to fight through a physical disability to shine onstage.

Actors with disabilities often feel discriminated against or left out, both on Broadway and in Hollywood. Able-bodied actors often portray characters with disabilities because of the stigmas against those who need to use a wheelchair or hearing aids. All disabilities, ranging from physical challenges to visual and hearing impairments are challenging to overcome, but it’s possible.

Much like Tessa Puma, Ali Stroker is a young performer who has not let her physical disability stop her from shining onstage. She is most well-known for being the first person in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway, but she worked very hard to get where she is today.

Stroker, a New Jersey native, suffered a spinal injury in a car accident at the age of two and was paralyzed from the chest down, requiring her to use a wheelchair. After seeing her first Broadway production at seven years old, she became infatuated with performing and began training to become an actress. After years of hard work, she became the first actress in a wheelchair to earn a Bachelor in Fine Arts from New York University’s Tisch Drama Department.
Ali Stroker was cast in a guest-starring role on Glee in 2013 and then became the first woman in a wheelchair to be cast in a role on Broadway, her Broadway debut in Spring Awakening. She has been cast in several roles since, and at 31 years old she continues to inspire other actors and performers who push through disabilities.

I don’t want to be cast because of my wheelchair…so you hope you are really seen in an audition room and you hope you are given opportunities because of what you’re bringing.”

— Ali Stroker


“I don’t want to be cast because of my wheelchair,” says Stroker. “So you hope you are really seen in an audition room and you hope you are given opportunities because of what you’re bringing.”

She is a demonstration of pushing past challenges in pursuit of a dream. She is an inspiration to other performers who may feel discouraged because of an impairment and she continues to advocate for equal treatment for performers with disabilities.

There are countless examples of performers and creators who have proven they are more than their disabilities. If so many individuals have proven time and time again that they should not be defined by a disability, why are there still stigmas around working with disabled artists? Moving forward, everyone in the theater community must keep an open mind and understand that someone with an impairment is capable of performing beautifully. These artists have worked hard to continue doing what they love, which is something that should be celebrated and appreciated, rather than overlooked.


*Article originally published on THE PLAYBILL PROJECT (1/16/2019)

Please share our stories: