Guest Blog: Supported Decision-Making for Texans with Disabilities

Megan Morgan, The Arc of Texas

November 16, 2015

During the most recent legislative session, Texas made history by becoming the first state to legally recognize supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship for adults with disabilities. Currently, there is a clear bias toward putting people with disabilities under full guardianship. Under this arrangement, a person loses some of their most basic civil rights, including the rights to drive, choose where to live, vote, consent to marriage, consent to medical treatment, and more.

While some people with disabilities might need extra support to make decisions, their rights to make decisions should not be taken away. At the heart of supported decision-making is a simple premise: all people use help to make important life decisions. When I am choosing where to live, for example, I often ask one of my parents to come look at apartments and help me decide what is right for me.

To use a supported decision-making agreement, a person with a disability chooses someone they trust to serve as their supporter. It is important to know that the supporter CANNOT make a decision for the person with a disability. The supporter CAN, however, help the person with a disability:

So, how does this all work? People with disabilities who want to use supported decision-making start by choosing someone they trust to help them make decisions to be their supporter. They may choose someone like a parent, friend, or former teacher. Next, the person with a disability should think about the types of decisions they need support with. This can be part of a conversation between the person and their supporter. When both parties feel ready, they will fill out a written plan called a supported decision-making agreement (see an example), which explains what decisions the supporter can help with and what information the supporter can access. Doctors, service providers, educators, and others are legally required to accept the agreement. This means that if the person with a disability so desires, their supporter can do things like talk to doctors about private medical information, discuss service coordination with providers, and participate in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings.

Three people in business dress sit at a table. The woman in the center holds a page and speaks into a microphone, while a woman on her right looks down at the page. A man on the left looks at the speaker.Supported decision-making became a legal alternative to guardianship as a result of the efforts of many individuals and groups. These include the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision-Making Workgroup, The Arc of Texas, brilliant self-advocates such as Jessaca (right) who testified in support of the legislation, legislative champions such as Senator Zaffirini and Representative Smithee, judicial allies like Chief Justice Hecht, Judge Herman, and David Slayton, Tom Suehs, and many others. Together we fought hard for this legislation so people with disabilities can be empowered to use available support to make their own choices.

Supported decision-making agreements are an excellent self-advocacy tool that people with disabilities can use to make their own decisions while having the support they need. Through legally recognizing supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship, Texas is helping to pave the way for people with disabilities to live more independent and self-directed lives.

About Megan

In a business portrait with a dark background, a young woman smiles directly at the cameraMegan Morgan, LMSW, is the Developmental Disabilities Policy Fellow (a position funded by a grant from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities) at The Arc of Texas. She collaborates with self-advocates, families, professional advocates, and other stakeholders to promote the self-determination and self-advocacy of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Texas. Megan supports people with disabilities to participate in legislative and agency advocacy, creates public education and awareness materials, provides trainings and webinars on disability policy issues and effective organizing strategies, and more.

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