Over the last few weeks, we’ve begun to roll out a new look-and-feel for the demo user accounts on our website. Each account persona has a backstory and a network of established relationships that mimic the real-world use case in which they would receive support toward self-determination, transition, and independent living.
For instance, Jon Student is a fictitious student who received a modified diploma and transitioned to a post-secondary program for students 18-21 years old. On Jon’s support team are his teachers, parents, vocational rehabilitation specialist, job coach, developmental disabilities case manager, autism specialist, group home manager, and personal support worker along with his therapist, extended family and friends.
Each person needed a face to match their name and we looked toward our own network of local talent in order to complete the project. We’d like you to meet Melissa Dahl.
At age 20, Melissa is a first-year student enrolled in the Eugene 4J Community Transition and Connections program. The Connections program serves students aged 18-21 and serves as a bridge to adult agencies, postsecondary schools, and the community.
For the past six months, Melissa has been participating in community-based employment creating artwork at Cognitopia. As part of this customized work experience, Melissa meets regularly with our Lead Designer, Josh Taylor, to develop her skills and career interests as an artist and digital illustrator.
In addition to autism, Melissa experiences misophonia, a sound sensitivity syndrome that impacts individuals in different ways. Melissa is often uncomfortable with noises like whistling, coughing, chewing, or throat clearing and has found art to be a creative and quiet outlet since she was a child.
“I think I started drawing when I was five years old. I remember drawing on my computer. I started with the eyes and then the nose and then the ears and then the head and then the whole body,” she explained. “I use my iPad and my iPencil to draw and I use paper, pencil and pen to draw. And I use markers and I use sharpies and colored pencils and I use paint. I sometimes listen to music on my iPad when I draw.”
Melissa’s Personal Support Worker, Charity, has known Melissa for several years. “Art is her de-stresser. Her outlet. She’s been drawing since she was really little.” Melissa has been selling her art for many years through Kindtree Autism Rocks. Along with selling cards through Kindtree, Melissa will be adding the money she earns by selling her digital artwork to Cognitopia toward purchasing a new iPad.
In the creation of the digital profile characters for Cognitopia, Josh provided Melissa with photographs of a variety of subjects to find inspiration, which she then drew in her uniquely whimsical art style.
Charity recounts, “Melissa did her own interpretation with just a little bit of instruction for diversity and age. She took each one and drew it in her own style of artwork compared to what she saw on the paper. There were different ethnicities and ages, older people, younger people, people with long hair, no hair, short curly hair. She did a really great job with facial features – just neck and up with a little bit of clothing. She did it so quickly. I sat there and watched her do it with no trouble at all.”
We asked Melissa about the experience. “Art means creativity to me,” she added. “When I draw I feel great and it makes me happy and helps me relax.”
Josh was able to see how excited Melissa got when she received payment for her artwork. “Melissa was very surprised when I presented her with her payment,” he said. “The hope was that we could help Melissa see the connection between commissioned artwork and more lucrative opportunities for her in graphic design. It’s inspiring to see Melissa’s comic artwork that she produces for herself and her work ethic when she produced commissioned work for us. The right place to apply Melissa’s skills turned out to be just getting to know her, letting her talk about her interests, listening and asking questions. After allowing time for the personal connection during each visit, Melissa became enthusiastic and the work became enjoyable.”
“The visual distinction that Melissa’s artwork creates helps us in the development of our apps, keeping us aware of the many support roles available to the users supported by our platform. The team saw the value of adding faces to the profiles to keep them straight in our minds. Once we saw her artwork in the profiles we knew that Melissa’s drawing aligns with what we are trying to accomplish at Cognitopia, creating apps that consider the perspective of those who see the world a little differently,” Josh added.
Melissa is currently attending a comics art class through the OSLP Arts & Culture Program and is active on DeviantArt and Zazzle, online artwork, videography, and photography communities. She currently has three chapters of her own comic strip published to her DeviantArt account.