What is Supported Decision-Making?

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Alternatives to Guardianship

What is Supported Decision-Making?

By Mike Skibbie, DRC-NH Policy Director

*On-line version of this article has been updated to reflect recent developments

On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, Governor Sununu signed SB 134, which establishes Supported Decision-Making (SDM) as a statutorily-recognized alternative to guardianship for adults with disabilities and their families.

Unlike guardianship, which involves the substitution of the guardian’s judgement for that of the person who is subject to the guardianship, the use of SDM maintains the person’s autonomy by providing supports so that the person can make their own decisions. Supports might include the use of plain-language materials, the presence of a supporter in meetings, and assistance in choosing from among a range of alternatives.

For many people, SDM will have advantages over guardianship. Guardianship is a court-imposed structure that completely removes decision making from the person with a disability. SDM, however, can be flexible in how it is applied from one person to the next, and in how it is applied to the same person over time. An SDM agreement will only exist if the person with the disability chooses it and is comfortable with their
designated supporters.

The benefit of retaining the freedom to make decisions is obvious to most of us and a good reason to use SDM whenever it is a safe alternative. What may be less obvious is the benefit to people when they exercise self-determination without the constraints of guardianship. People with greater self-determination are healthier, more independent, and better able to recognize and resist abuse. They also tend to be known and valued in their communities.

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DRC-NH, in collaboration with the UNH Institute on Disability and the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities, distribute a quarterly RAP sheet to educate community members and policy makers about the latest research, policy, practice, and advocacy issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families.

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