Supported Decision Making

What is supported decision-making?

Supported decisionmaking (SDM) is a tool that allows people with disabilities to retain their decisionmaking capacity by choosing supporters to help them make choices. A person using SDM selects trusted advisors, such as friends, family members, or professionals, to serve as supporters. The supporters agree to help the person with a disability understand, consider, and communicate decisions, giving the person with a disability the tools to make their own, informed,  decisions. (ACLU)

Who makes the decision? The guardian/conservator has the right to make the final decisions about the ward/conservatee’s life The person with a disability uses support, but ultimately makes the final choice about his own life.
What is the role of the court? All changes have to go through the court.

If there is a problem with a conservator or guardian, or if the conservator or guardian dies, the court must approve any changes or appointment of new guardians/conservators.

The court can replace a guardian or conservator with someone else if they think it best, or grant the conservator/guardian more powers than they requested.

The person with a disability can change the supporters they use anytime they want without a court process.

They can easily add supporters and get the insights of many people.

What are the
protections against abuse?
Typically, only one conservator/guardian
makes all the decisions for one conservatee/ward.The court technically oversees the relationship but rarely does so in practice.
There will usually be multiple supporters. They may provide support in different areas (i.e., a parent may help with money, while a friend or staff member may help with social decisions); or they may work together to provide support (i.e., two supporters help the person make medical decisions).

Having more than one supporter provides a check against abuse or manipulation by any one supporter.

A monitor can also be appointed to oversee the supporters and is advisable when finances are included.

How are the
person’s needs
The abilities and needs of the person with a disability are determined by a judge based on the person’s I.Q. score and diagnosis.

The court looks at what the person can do by herself, without any assistance or support.

The court assumes that these needs will remain the same over the course of the person’s life.

The strengths and needs of a person are discussed by the person and her supporters.

The person’s abilities are based on what she can do both alone and with supports.

The person can modify the supports she needs and the supporters who provide these over the course of her life, as she continues to learn and develop decisionmaking skills.

Source: ACLU


National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making

The National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making (NRC-SDM) builds on and extends the work of Quality Trust’s Jenny Hatch Justice partners bring nationally recognized expertise and leadership on SDM, representing the interests of and receiving input from thousands of older adults and people with I/DD. They have applied SDM in groundbreaking legal cases, developed evidence-based outcome measures, successfully advocated for changes in law, policy and practice to increase self-determination and demonstrated SDM to be a valid, less-restrictive alternative to guardianship.

ACLU  Supported Decision-Making Resource Library 

Supported Decision-Making is an alternative model, where people with disabilities keep their rights and their decision-making capacity. Instead of having a guardian make choices for them, people with disabilities have supporters who help them make their own choices. A person using supported decision-making appoints trusted advisors, such as friends, family, or professionals, to serve as supporters. The supporters help the person with a disability understand, make, and communicate her own choices.

The Resource Library has videos and general information about Supported Decision-Making, Tools For Implementing Supported Decision-Making and Legal Information about Supported Decision-Making.

Parent to Parent USA Webinar Series: Supported Decision-Making

Four-part webinar series on Supported Decision. Recordings, slides and handouts are available online!
Learn more about using Supported Decision Making in Special Education, Health Care and Life Planning:

Information & Resources for People with Disabilities

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