Frontline Initiative Choice, Direction, and Control

Supported decision-making:
Everyone can make decisions

Jonathan Martinis & Jessalyn Gustin

How would you feel if you didn’t have any control over your life? Or if you weren’t allowed to choose what to do, where to go, who to spend time with, or whether to work? That feeling – frustrating and powerless – is what people with disabilities have faced for thousands of years. From Ancient Rome to America, courts have appointed people – called guardians or conservators – to make decisions in place of people with disabilities.

We’re not saying that no one should have a guardian. If people truly cannot make decisions, even with help, they may need guardians. But, if people can make decisions for themselves, they should have the right to do so. When people have more control over their lives – more self-determination – they have better lives. One national study compared people with disabilities with similar abilities and limitations. It found that individuals without guardians were more likely to live independently, work, have friends, and practice their religion than those with guardians.1

Supported decision-making (SDM) is a way for people with disabilities to make their own decisions and control their lives. When people use SDM, they work with people they trust, who help them understand their choices so they can make their own decisions.

Click the link2 below to access a guide that can help people find out if SDM is right for the people to whom you provide support, their family members, or friends. It can help people create an SDM team, find people to be on the team, and work with the team to identify needs and provide support.

Direct support professionals (DSPs) can help people use SDM. The most important thing a DSP can do is presume that people can make decisions. Then, DSPs can help people think about where they need support, choose who will give that support and how, and communicate this information to the people and professionals in their lives.

Understanding, making, and communicating choices are key parts of everyone’s lives. For people with disabilities, they are the most important parts of Person-Centered Planning. Person-centered values are at the heart of Dream Inspired Planning and developing a Culture of Coordinated Support, which we discuss below. By helping people with disabilities use SDM, DSPs empower them to make their own decisions, direct their own lives, play the central role in their service plans, and have the best chance to lead their best lives.