NWCCI independent living coordinator Staci Nichols discusses the fight for those who need it most
Staci Nichols knows the value of independence.
Nichols, who is deaf, considers herself deeply blessed that she was able to grow up with a support system that understood how to empower her. Nichols’s mother, she says, discovered Nichols was deaf when she was about 6 months old, and worked hard to help little Staci learn, associate, socialize and grow alongside kids who didn’t have her particular disability.
But even so, Nichols said there were times when she was seen as an “other,” and was penned in with other disabled kids who had totally different needs than she did. Still, drawing on her own strength and on the foundation her mother helped her build, Nichols overcame — getting degrees and qualifications that have made it possible for her to help others who need a little help.
Now, Nichols, an independent living coordinator, among other things, with the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence, fights for kids who don’t have that foundation. She fights for adults who never had what she had. She fights for those who are isolated by their disability, or pushed aside. She works with these folks — folks from all kinds of backgrounds and with all kinds of challenges to overcome — and helps them achieve the independence they deserve.
“People have the right to live where they want to live,” Nichols said. “I don’t see that happen much because of lack of services. I get it. Most deaf people live in the city. I hated the city; I tried to live there, I just couldn’t. My goal is to help them figure out how to adapt to suit their needs by working together in the community.”
For Nichols, it’s an opportunity to do something for folks whose struggles she intimately understands. It’s an opportunity she doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s huge,” Nichols said. “It’s hard to describe. I’ve had several jobs in the past, 8 to 5, have to be there, have to wait for people to come to you. Sometimes they come to me, but not always. Sometimes people don’t know what they need until they find out what they need. We build on that. I meet them where they’re at.”
Nichols communicates with folks outside the Deaf community through an interpreter, to whom she signs, and who signs responses back to her. She’s grateful for that help.
“There are communication barriers,” she said. “Communication barriers are one of the worst disabilities there are. People take communication for granted. When they don’t have it they freak out. There are ways around — ways to adapt.”
Nichols doesn’t only serve folks like her — she also helps those with mobility issues, mental illness, cognitive disabilities and more.
“I’ve worked with a lot of diversity,” Nichols said. “Needs are totally different. To identify needs and hear someone out, that makes a huge difference. Connection is key.”
Nichols loves Northwest Colorado. She’s passionate about making it possible for folks to overcome barriers that often funnel them to urban areas. She sees her work as building a bridge over the gaps that exist between needs and accessibility in this rural region.
Nichols said there used to be at least 10 deaf people in Craig, but that’s diminished, in part because of job accessibility.
“Not because of ability, but because of people not understanding how to work with the deaf,” she said. “I was out of work on and off for eight years. I have a college degree. Didn’t matter where I was. They put me in a warehouse. I didn’t want to work in a warehouse.”
The other side of the conversation, then — those who need to adapt for folks who need a different circumstance to succeed — is just as important in Nichols’s work.
“I work with both all the time,” Nichols said. “The people on ‘the other side’ are harder than those who are in need of the help. Unfortunately. They think they know, or they’re not really willing to spend the time to try. It’s a challenge.”
It’s beyond frustrating, she said.
“I deal with it in my life; even I face that,” she said.
Nichols recognizes the limits of her own experience, education and bandwidth, and readily seeks help from others in NWCCI or outside of it.
“It’s not my work,” she said. “That would be self-centered. We need help.”
Now, though, to take on that work in part and help others who have walked her path, it’s hard for Nichols to describe the fulfillment she feels.
“No words can describe it,” she said. “I’ve been pushed on the back burner a lot in my life. I still get that from time to time. It’s not my problem to carry, but it becomes frustrating. This job really gives me way more opportunities than anywhere else I’ve worked.”
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