Carina Ho

Increasing representation of all abilities and bodies in the arts

Carina Ho
Indie Music Artist and Producer, Dancer, Author, and Disability Rights Advocate
2017 Fulbright U.S. Student to Uruguay

Carina Ho is an acclaimed Oakland-based indie electronic artist and music producer, a talented professional dancer, and an inspiring children’s book author. She is also a wheelchair-user and a powerful disability rights advocate, who works at Airbnb to promote greater accessibility and inclusion within travel. Carina was paralyzed below the chest following a car accident in 2014. Since then, she has devoted her life and career to increasing representation of all abilities and bodies in the arts. A Fulbright to Uruguay allowed her to share this mission across borders and inspired the next phase of her career.

“My goal is to draw from my leadership experience in tech as well as my career as a professional artist to develop creative solutions and products that help people of all abilities to live more independent and active lives,” she says.

A trained classical pianist and ballet dancer, Carina thought she would never perform again after her accident. Then a friend introduced her to AXIS Dance Company, where able-bodied and disabled dancers perform together. She says that learning to dance in her wheelchair opened up new creative opportunities.  

On a feature segment on The Healing Power of Dance on New York Public Radio, she spoke about her new creative identity. “Although I may not be able to extend my legs or leap like I used to, I think I have grown a lot in my creative thinking as a dancer," she said. “It's almost as if a whole box of creative opportunities has been opened since I've been disabled, just having to problem-solve constantly.” It turns out that joining AXIS was just the beginning of her exploration.

After touring with AXIS for two years, she applied for and received a Fulbright U.S. Student award to Montevideo, Uruguay, which enabled her to bring her passion for access and artistry to a wider community and to choreograph her own work for the first time. In 2018, she taught  workshops at the national dance conservatory, el SODRE, and the Fine Arts department of La Universidad República through the Fulbright Program, and choreographed a community dance piece with a group of disabled and non-disabled dancers. Many of the audience members commented that this was the first inclusive dance piece they had ever seen, and one of her workshop participants from Uruguay went on to continue his studies in the United States through the Fulbright Program.

“The work that I did during my Fulbright allowed me to establish an independent point of view, outside of AXIS. It allowed me to find my own voice on what inclusion in the arts actually means,” she said. “Designing my own curriculum and networking under my own identity as an artist really helped me to come up with my own philosophy on how I would authentically represent different identities in my work. My Fulbright experience helped me learn how to listen and ask questions, how to direct people who are different from me, and how to approach people with more openness and flexibility. That has made me a better artist and communicator.”

Since returning to the United States in 2019, Carina has used that energy to branch into different media. Her artistic exploration as a Fulbrighter in Uruguay proved to be a turning point on her path to becoming an indie electronic artist and music producer, while simultaneously branching out as a disability advocate through her writing and her work on the accessibility team at Airbnb.

She was awarded the Disability. Dance. Artistry. Residency through Dance/NYC. “I saw this opportunity as a crossroads of everything I represented: a dancer and a musician with a disability.” Using an original piece of music she had written while living in Uruguay, over the course of six months of the residency Carina created a dance film called we sleep no more that celebrates the aging and disabled body, featuring five dancers who use power wheelchairs. Never having worked exclusively with dancers in power wheelchairs, she wrote, “I found myself both humbled and challenged in creating movements that were accessible to people of different physical abilities my own.”

Inspired to connect with wider audiences, Carina began to expand on the music that had been a release for her while recovering from surgery and acclimating to living with paralysis. During that time, she taught herself how to produce music using software called Ableton, and learning how to add other instruments and effects to each song. She began to produce music under the moniker ONIKHO, focusing more on her creative identity as a musician. In 2019, she was invited to play at the Madison (Wisconsin) Disability Pride Festival. As a female artist with a disability, she wrote at the time, “I am seeing more and more opportunity to break into new groups of people who have never seen a person like me get up on stage and play original music.” As her following grew, she commented that “ONIKHO has become a project that tells the universal story of self-rediscovery after loss; it is also my way of promoting visibility for artists with disabilities.”

In June 2023, Carina, as ONIKHO, released her first full length album, Rodeo Pantheon, with a production style she describes as melding her influences of blues, jazz, and electronic soundscapes to create what she describes as “electro-cinematic soul.” She frames the new album as taking listeners on a journey through her reflections on recovery, loss, mental health, and love, with each track dabbling in a different musical genre.  While she is the sole producer and songwriter for all her music, ONIKHO often features and collaborates with other artists with disabilities “as a way to increase representation of all abilities and bodies in the arts.”

While developing and recording her music, Carina has also been pursuing another project to serve as a role model for young people. Carina teamed up with international award-winning children’s book author Jesse Byrd to publish Mighty Mara, a children's book about a young girl who hopes to dance in her school’s talent show despite her disability. She and her co-author plan to develop a sequel, so they can continue to inspire the next generation of young readers.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram