SDM: A Better Way
Supported decision-making (SDM) enables people with disabilities to pick people they trust, usually family and friends, to help them make choices to the maximum of their unique abilities.
We all use supported decision-making! Maybe you count on your friend to help you with your computer. Or you call a family member who is a nurse to give you advice on a medical procedure. Just because a person needs support on some decisions doesn’t mean their ability to make any choices about their life should be taken away.
Unlike conservatorship, in SDM, there is no need to involve the court in the person’s life. With SDM, there is no need to pay for a lawyer, appear before a judge, or get visits from a court representative. People with disabilities have the opportunity to lead their life with support, and without the courts.
A person using SDM chooses trusted advisors to serve as supporters. Supporters may be family members, friends, staff, or professionals. The supporters agree to help the person with a disability understand, consider, and communicate decisions. Supporters also give the person with a disability the ability to make their own informed decisions. Individualized tools, services and accommodations are key to empowering the person to make these choices, especially for those who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
SDM can be very informal, though it can also be written into formal documents when necessary. It’s also designed to change, just like people’s lives and circles of support change.
With SDM, there is no need to pay for a lawyer, appear before a judge, or get visits from a court representative. People with disabilities have the opportunity to lead their life with support, and without the courts.
Advantages of SDM
- Expanding the circle of support
We know many parents have great concerns about who will care for their child after they die. Supported decision-making helps adults with disabilities expand their trusted group of supporters – including those outside of the family. Not only does this provide a sense of pride, competence, and community for your adult child, it also means they have a circle of trusted people who care about them and will be involved in their lives long after their parents pass.
- Plan to move? That’s the disabled person’s choice!
If a disabled adult uses SDM and is not conserved, they do not need anybody’s permission to move. Nor do they need to ask anyone if it’s okay to visit another state or country. In SDM, the person has the same freedom of movement as anyone else.
- Life changes, and so can SDM
People move in and out of everyone’s life, and so a disabled person’s circle of support should change to reflect that. In most cases, the circle is an informal group that is used whenever it makes sense. There is no one to report to and tell that the circle or supports have changed.
The Supported Decision-Making Agreement
Supported decision-making can be formal or very informal. The person can be surrounded by a circle of people they trust that changes over their lifetime. SDM can also simply be written into legal binding documents – like memorializing it in the school’s IEP Notes or hand-writing the name of a chosen supporter onto other legal forms.
There may be other certain circumstances where they might need something in writing to show that they have a supporter helping them make decisions. This is when they may want to consider a written Supported Decision-Making Agreement.
In an SDM Agreement, the person and their supporters can sign a document in which everyone agrees to support the person with their decisions. This document can also be attached to legal forms, like forms that give the supporter permission to get information about you. This gives the person the flexibility to choose who will have decision-making authority and how that authority may be exercised.
Unlike conservatorships, SDM agreements can be ended or changed at any time without any court or official involvement. An SDM agreement can be attached to legal documents, like an IEP, IPP, powers of attorney, or HIPAA Authorizations. It can be modified at any time and has the benefit of being tailored to the person the Agreement is supporting.