The sun is setting as students rush into the basement of North Hall on a warm Thursday night. They’re buzzing with excitement and curiosity for what the next hour has in store. It’s easy to tell this class means something to all of the students. Especially for Matti Poole.
Poole, 22, is one of 15 students in Helen Neumann’s art class facilitated through the University of Iowa Realizing Educational and Career Hopes, REACH, program, a two-year program intended for students around the country with numerous intellectual, cognitive and learning disabilities.
“With art, disabilities are erased completely,” Neumann said. “They’re working with ideas their brain is producing and that’s it. No disability, just art.”
The program gives students an authentic college experience while helping them become independent and active members of the community. Currently, the UI has 58 students enrolled in REACH.
Poole was born deaf and has had a cochlear implant since she was nine years old. She knows American Sign Language but prefers speaking over signing because she wants to refine her speaking ability.
She describes it as living in between two worlds; The hearing world and the deaf world. And she prefers one over the other.
“I am proud of myself and my ability to use speech,” she said. “Speaking helps me so I can talk to different kinds of people.”
It’s her natural artistic talent and trained ability to see the world around her so precisely that has molded her into an artist. An artist who beams with self confidence in herself and her work.
“Being deaf you see things very visually which is an advantage in art,” Poole said. “I’m proud of my deafness, I was born this way.”
Over the summer Poole worked on her most personal piece to date. A large scale poster of seven students, each with their unique disability, holding up a letter to spell out “UI REACH.”
She said it’s an homage to the REACH program, which has helped her grow as an artist and as a person. When complimented on her work, a knowing smile spreads across her face and her eyes light up. It’s her shy laugh and confident smile that show how happy she is to have someone acknowledge her hard work.
Pam Ries, director of UI REACH, said Poole is a great friend to those around her and she passionate about art and her goal of becoming a professional artist.
“Matti is a super talented and a gentle human being who wants to make the world a better place,” Ries said.
Through REACH, Reis said Matti has become more self-confident and feels as if she can excel in anything art related.
“She is searching out new opportunities and believes she can accomplish her art goal in the future,” Ries said. “She works hard and wants to learn everything she can so she can be independent when she leaves REACH”
As for Matti, the deep burning fire she has for learning and expressing herself through art won’t be dying down anytime soon. She has plans to illuminate the sky with her talent and have the whole world take notice.
“I’m a great artist,” Poole said. “I want to show the world I am a great artist.”
As first seen in Fools Magazine, Vol. 1, December 2016.