Advocates Push Alternatives to Guardianship

by Andy Jones
April 3, 2017

Disability Rights Tennessee, working with five other advocacy groups, released a new white paper March 21, about supported decision-making for people with disabilities in need of assistance, but capable of making their own choices.

Supported decision-making refers to a process for assisting people with disabilities with making life decisions. The process is meant to be less restrictive than a guardianship, or conservatorship as they are known in some states, which restrict the person’s self-determination by allowing others to make decisions on their behalf. 

Under a supported decision-making system, the individual would designate one or multiple people as “supporters,” to assist them with gathering relevant information to help the individual make medical, financial, educational or other important life decisions. At all times however, the individual maintains their right to self-determination.

“Tennesseans with disabilities and aging adults have diverse values, needs, levels of functionality, and preferences, yet in our state there are one-size-fits-all solutions that are a poor fit for many,” the paper states. “If Tennessee provides an option to conservatorship and power of attorney that creates a continuum of choice, more individuals could retain their independence and freedom, and our state will acquire a more engaged and participatory citizenry.”

In recent years, legislation has been enacted recognizing supported decision-making agreements in Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York, and Washington, D.C.

“In practice, SDM is how adults typically make decisions. Rarely does anyone make important life choices without the input of family, friends, or in some cases a trained professional,” the paper states. “If you have ever asked your doctor to just ‘spell it out in simple language’ or asked your parents for advice about buying a car, you have used SDM informally.

“For people with disabilities and aging adults SDM is very similar; it simply provides a framework and guidance for this process. Formally recognizing this framework is critical, and in some states the framework is part of state law and thus provides legal recognition for their supporter.”

The Arc of Tennessee, Family Voices of Tennessee, the Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities assisted with the creation of the report.

The full paper can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Tennessee are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Tennessee, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.