Supported Decision Making & Alternatives to Guardianship

    Supported Decision- Making & Alternatives to Guardianship

    What is supported decision-making?

    Supported decision-making is not a strange, new thing, but rather a process by which a person with an intellectual or developmental disability can be supported in making his or her own decisions. Supported decision-making draws on our common experience of consulting or seeking assistance from others when we make decisions or choices in our own lives. Whether it is renting an apartment, buying a car, or choosing to get married, we do not make decisions in a vacuum, but rather with "support" from friends, family and/or experts of some kind.

    People with intellectual or developmental disabilities also have a right to make their own choices and decisions, but may need more, or different kinds of support to do so. Supports may include helping a person access information that is useful or necessary for a decision, helping her weigh the pros and cons, assisting in communicating the decision to third parties, and /or in carrying it out. But the decision is always the person’s (who we call the "decision-maker") and not the supporter’s.

    One common form of supported decision-making involves the decision-maker identifying and choosing a person or persons whom she wishes to support her in various areas. For example, she might wish one person to support her with regard to finances, another with health care, and a third with intimate relationships. There is no limit to the number of supporters a decision-maker may choose, but usually it is between one and 10. Supporters are frequently family members, and might also include friends, peers, neighbors, or service providers, but the relationship must always be one based on trust.

    Often the arrangement is reduced to writing in what is called a “supported decision- making agreement” which spells out the rights and obligations of the parties, including an understanding by supporters that they are to assist the decision-maker, but never to substitute their own decision in lieu of hers. Although not yet legally binding on third parties (like banks or healthcare providers) in New York, supported decision-making agreements, and the relationships that underlie them may be used as an alternative to guardianship, where, literally all of the rights of persons with disabilities are taken away.

    Supported Decision-Making New York (SDMNY)

    The Supported Decision-Making Project, funded by a five year grant from the NYS Developmental Disability Planning Council, is run by an innovative consortium between Hunter College/Cuny, New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation (formerly NYSACRA), Disability Rights New York, and Arc of Westchester.

    The main focus of the project is aimed at increasing awareness of SDM as an alternative to guardianship for persons with I/DD, and to implement two parallel SDM pilot programs designed to divert transition-age youth with I/DD from entering guardianship, and to help restore the rights of adults with I/DD already under guardianship. The project partners will use the results of these pilots, which will begin in NYC and roll-out to several statewide locations, to create educational materials for a variety of stakeholders—including persons with I/DD, their parents and family members, professionals in special education, lawyers, judges and the court system, legislators—and disseminate them through information sessions for interested groups, webinars hosted on, conference presentations, and an active social media awareness-raising campaign.

    By project’s end, the partners hope to have established a viable model for providing access to SDM for persons with I/DD in New York, and to have either prevented a significant number of persons with I/DD from entering into guardianship or helped them remove their guardianship orders, thereby enhancing their opportunities to maximize their autonomy and independence.

    For more information on Supported Decision Making or to get involved go to or contact Desiree Loucks Baer at