Schaeffer was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disorder that causes her to have brittle bones, making her prone to fractures.
Schaeffer was raised in Plainville, Connecticut where she was discovered by Sesame Street talent scouts searching for a child actors that would add diversity to the street. Schaeffer had been on the Newington Children's Hospital's award-winning Cruisers wheelchair athletic team and impressed the show's producers with her wheelchair racing skills and other modified track and field talents.
“Sesame Street gave Tarah a lot of self-confidence, and we approached it as a family adventure as we did everything...We would do it as long as it was fun, and when it wasn't fun anymore that would be it.”
—Scott G. Schaeffer (father)
A 2000 Sesame Workshop newsletter mentioned Tarah's inclusion in the cast as one of the top ten significant ways Sesame Street has encouraged diversity:
“1994 - Tarah Lynne Schaeffer joins the cast. Wheelchair-bound Tarah proves over and over again that all kids like to play, laugh, learn, and have fun! Her spunky presence has helped children learn about the needs (and strengths!) of children with disabilities.”
—Sesame Workshop Newsletter
Sesame Street writer Emily Perl Kingsley was a strong supporter of Tarah's inclusion in the cast. Kingsley's episode "Tarah's Ballet," which features a wheelchair dance, gained her a Grand EDI. Kingsley also drafted many guests with disabilities, such as Itzhak Perlman and the Little Theater of the Deaf. The integration of Schaeffer exemplified Kingsley's views:
“We include kids with disabilities just as part of the gang. Children in the audience get validation when they see others like themselves. Their siblings receive gratifying reinforcement seeing kids like those in their own families. We take the strangeness out of it. Why should difference be equated with fear?"”
—Emily Perl Kingsley
Tarah Schaeffer appeared on Sesame Street for eight seasons. She became more and more featured in the scripts, and at times would travel two or three times a week from Connecticut to the studio in New York. However when her family moved to Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, the trip to New York became more difficult, and both Tarah and her family felt it was time to move on
Schaeffer graduated from Daniel Boone High School in 2002, and as of February 2007, she is a fifth-year student of professional writing with a minor in women's studies at a school near her home. She plans to pursue a job as a book critic or in publishing.
“I had some bumps in my road and frustrations that I'd rather not have had, but they've all got me to where I wanted to be. I know I was lucky to have the parents I did I wouldn't be here without all the support they've given me...I still hope people can look at me if they have goals and say. "If she can do it, I can do it, too."”