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About Supported Decision Making

Almost everyone has relied on someone else to help them make a decision. For example, we may consult someone for a second opinion if we think our auto mechanic is overcharging us, we allow a real estate agent to help us navigate the home-buying process, or we reach out to friends for input on their experiences before contacting a plumber or electrician. People with and without disabilities occasionally need support in the decision making process. The difference is that when people with disabilities need assistance in making decisions, we are quick to jump to the conclusion that a guardianship is needed. Guardianship can strain family relationships; create financial hardship; interfere with postsecondary education and employment options; and potentially even increase susceptibility to abuse, neglect or exploitation. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities who do not have a guardian are more likely to: [1]
  • Have a paid job
  • Live independently
  • Have friends other than staff or family
  • Go on dates and socialize in the community
  • Practice the Religion of their choice
Supported Decision Making is “a recognized alternative to guardianship through which people with disabilities use friends, family members, and professionals to help them understand the situations and choices they face, so they may make their own decisions without the ‘need’ for a guardian.”[2] In Supported Decision Making, individuals can choose “Supporters” to assist them in different areas of their lives—employment, education, services, finances, health, etc. The Supporters and their duties are listed in an agreement that is shared with all of the individual’s service providers to ensure the Supporters are included in discussions surrounding important decisions. The Supporter does NOT make decisions for the individual or discuss matters without the individual present. Instead, the Supporter helps explain information in an understandable way, guides the individual in weighing the courses of action, and advises the individual on the consequences of the decision. Some benefits of Supported Decision Making include:
  • Individual is always at the center of decision-making.
  • Individual decides who offers support.
  • Individual retains legal rights.
  • No expensive attorney fees or court fees.
  • Teaches individual about decision making, self-determination, and details of his or her affairs.