Creating Movement through the Fulbright Program

Carina in wheelchair in front of large lake and hills.
Carina smiles in wheelchair in front of large lake and hills. Photo credit: Zai Divecha
Carina Ho, a creator of movement through music and dance globally

In 2018, Carina Ho was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to promote access to dance for people with disabilities in Uruguay. As a wheelchair-user, Carina wanted to share her passion for dance and philosophy of dance to more people globally and did so specifically in Montevideo, Uruguay during her Fulbright Fellowship. 

Growing up, dance and music were always a big part of Carina’s life. Her parents encouraged her involvement in the arts at a very early age from ballet classes to classical piano lessons. What started as a hobby, soon became a lifelong passion and its meaning deepened.

In 2014, Carina was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed. At this time she didn’t really know anyone with a disability and she suddenly had to learn to navigate the world in a wheelchair. Carina also thought she may never dance again until a friend connected her to a dance group called AXIS, whose vision is to “create a radically inclusive dance sector and world by removing barriers and showcasing the beauty of difference.”

Her involvement with AXIS started as an apprentice and then eventually she became a full-time company member who toured alongside the company for two years. The philosophy of the company that you can be creative and an activist alongside non-disabled people helped establish Carina’s identity as a disabled woman, artist, and creator.

Around this same time, Carina also started to get more involved in creating music. She started to teach herself how to create music on the computer and was soon creating multi-instrumental songs. She started a project called ONIKHO, which really became a blend of her identities as an artist.

Taking this passion across borders became her next adventure. She always thought about the Fulbright Program even before she became disabled and now she had an idea for a project. She wanted to take what she learned about access and artistry and create something of her own. With her Fulbright project, she wanted to see how she could continue this philosophy of inclusion on a higher education level in Uruguay.

She started with teaching workshops to communities including the National Dance Conservatory in the capital city of Montevideo as well as with the national university. In addition to teaching, she also choreographed a community dance piece with a group of ten dancers, both disabled and non-disabled. After rehearsing for weeks, they performed in a public venue. For many of the audience members this was the first inclusive dance piece they had ever watched, which was a profound moment for Carina's experience abroad.

“Living in a country with different standards around access for people with disabilities certainly had its challenges. But I believe many of the friendships and interactions with strangers I had throughout my time in Uruguay served as educating moments on how to be an ally. I believe that is all the more reason for people with disabilities to pursue Fulbrights.” 

This dialogue and exchange of experiences were some of the best experiences during her program and to share what makes us both different and similar. She shares that “There is power in exposure.” A Uruguayan, who attended Carina’s workshop, learned about the Fulbright Program through her and ended up receiving an award to study in the United States.

The Fulbright Program was such an enriching experience for Carina and she is motivated to encourage others with disabilities to apply.

“Living abroad can be more challenging with a disability, but with the right preparation it is definitely possible. Being a person with a disability in a less accessible country without a visible disabled culture created rich educational opportunities that resulted in long-lasting relationships.”

There is a lot people with disabilities can do to prepare for the many opportunities through the Fulbright Program, but there shouldn’t be anything to deter a person from participating. 

Carina has some tips for those with disabilities starting their Fulbright journey. 

  • Find local organizations that work with people with disabilities. The staff or participants can serve as great resources for finding accessible housing, activities, or healthcare. The local Fulbright staff and the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) may be able to help connect you. 
  • Find online communities, social media is a great resource, to contact individuals who may be able to share local knowledge such as the accessibility of different neighborhoods or public transportation, general cultural attitudes, necessary language/vocabulary to get around 
  • Locate medical centers if you will have any health-related needs. 
  • If you have disability-related needs, don’t hesitate to discuss this with Fulbright staff.  The Fulbright Program has a policy of providing “reasonable accommodations” on a case by case basis.  

Recently, Carina has started to deepen her art project ONIKHO. She has started to create music videos and visually she also wanted to integrate dance. She has built many collaborations with different kinds of artists, both with and without disabilities with the goal of normalizing the presences of different types of bodies.

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange is a project of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, designed to increase the participation of people with disabilities in international exchange between the United States and other countries, and is supported in its implementation by Mobility International USA.