An Interview with Nick Kaasa, Self-Advocacy Consultant

Making decisions can be difficult. Whether the problem is large (should I buy a car?) or small (what should I cook for dinner?) working out the best choice can feel overwhelming. Sometimes there are too many options, and sometimes none of the options are exactly right. Do you ever wish you had a better system to help you make the best decisions?

Nick Kaasa has an answer to that question. Kaasa works as a self-advocacy consultant at the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities (OCDD) and he’s on a mission to spread the word about the LifeCourse Framework. It’s a person-centered planning guide for anyone who wants to make decisions that match their life goals.

Along with Ryley Newsome, OCDD Communications Director, Kaasa has been creating a video series called “Planning With Nick.” The videos explore ways people with disabilities can chart their own course and make the best decisions for their lives. Some episodes focus on using the LifeCourse Framework for specific topics, like staying healthy during the COVID pandemic. Other episodes feature interviews with experts on disability services and rights. As Newport explained, these videos serve OCDD’s mission of helping people with disabilities and their families to be advocates in their own lives, and Kaasa was the right person to do this work.

“Nick is so good at teaching people how to look up at the big picture when they feel stuck. He has a unique perspective beyond his experience connecting people to services, because he has also self-advocated for his own needs. He understands how to gain a sense of control by using this process,” said Newport.

On a recent phone interview, Kaasa talked about the video series and how he bases his self-advocacy work on the LifeCourse Framework. Here are highlights from that conversation:

 

Can you give us an overview of the LifeCourse Framework?

LifeCourse is basically a person-centered way to approach planning. It’s great for making decisions, and it also helps people see the big picture when they think about their life. LifeCourse uses a set of questions that a person would think about or answer when they are trying to see what choice is the best one. The questions follow a trajectory from past to present to future.

For example, someone might be feeling uncertain or stressed these days about COVID. Maybe they know they want to stay healthy during this time but don’t know where to start. We might ask that person to answer these questions:

  • What do I want to have happen during this experience?
  • What past experiences have prepared you for this time?
  • What do you want to avoid during this time?
  • What can you do now to make your goal happen?
  • Where do you hope to be in the future after you do those things?

I find myself using LifeCourse concepts on a daily basis as I plan out my whole day or my projects. For example, when I start planning a new video, I ask myself what I to have happen, and what do I want to avoid. Then I shape the conversation around those ideas.

 

Ten years ago, you were a transition student in Eugene. How did you get to where you are today?

It started when I was asked to be part of Look Me in the Eye, a campaign, a media campaign to recognize and break down barriers between all people. I gave presentations in schools, with the message that I am more than just some guy in a wheelchair. That work led to my first paid position with Full Access, and from there I became involved with the OCDD. All of this work has been around helping people with disabilities learn to self-advocate.

I was a council member with OCDD for almost eight years, until the opportunity came up to work with Ryley on the “Planning with Nick” series. Actually, the idea started as a series of in-person presentations, but we had to adapt to the COVID epidemic. Making these videos was a challenge at first but it has been a meaningful and positive experience. I think we will continue the videos even after social distancing is over, because it’s an easy way for many people to learn about these tools.

 

What are some examples of how TN students can use the LifeCourse Framework?

That is a time when students have a lot of decisions to make about their lives and what they want for their future. Students don’t always recognize how many supportive relationships they have in their lives. These relationships are important for transition students as they become more independent.

Every person needs support—whether or not they have a disability. Sometimes we focus more on paid support that comes from eligibility-based services. But other relationships are just as important. These are community networks, friends, housemates, and family. The LifeCourse Framework helps people, including students, recognize the many relationships they have as they move forward from being a student.

Families and service providers also benefit from learning about the LifeCourse framework. A series of printouts found on the Planning With Nick webpage can guide students and families through trajectory planning. The printouts use fun graphics and space to write answers to LifeCourse questions. They offer an easy platform for person-centered planning conversations.

Learn more about LifeCourse tools