People with disabilities face more challenges every day than we face in a year. As such, legal protections have been put in place over time to ensure that people who for one reason or another cannot take care of themselves are properly looked after and have the power to make decisions on behalf of the disabled individual. The people who become their representatives are called guardians or conservators.
That’s all fine and good, but guardianship is not perfect. It can completely take away any decision-making capabilities the disabled person has, regardless of whether they can make sound decisions on their own.
To make the system more equitable for people who have disabilities, many lawyers and lawmakers are calling for a new form of guardianship called supported decision-making that allows the disabled person to retain some say, while still having guidance for the final word.
What is Supported Decision-Making?
Supported Decision-making is a relatively new concept and is defined as a support mechanism that assists adults with disabilities in order to make his or her own decisions about issues concerning their lives. They do this by relying on the help of trusted family members, friends or professionals to help them to come to the ultimate conclusions.
Rather than being placed under a traditional guardian who dictates everything on their behalf, supported decision-makers are there to guide cognitively challenged people. They do this by helping them make their own choices with things such as medical treatment, banking, and legal matters. This type of system allows the person with the disability to have a semblance of control over what happens to them and what goes on in their lives. It is also seen as a better way for them to makes sure their wishes, not the wishes of the person looking after them, are met.
Why go this Route?
One of the most cited reasons for supported-decision making is that it can give confidence to disabled people by giving them some power over their lives. More importantly, it can also restore certain decision-making rights to cognitively or physically disabled people, rights that others take for granted and which are a “fundamental value in American law,” according to the American Bar Association.
These less restrictive options can go a long way to prove to the rest of us that many disabled people do not lack the capability to determine life choices for themselves. It also gives them protection from the protectors. Sad as it may be, abuses by guardians are not uncommon. There are simply not enough monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure the disabled person’s best interests are being taken into consideration.
The idea of this less-invasive alternative to guardianship is gaining momentum in the States. While there are always going to be cases where full guardianship is the only way, for many, this new possibility opens previously closed doors and is a major step toward independence.
If you or a loved one are in this position, take a look at supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship in your state. It may be the first of many “right” choices for you!