Understanding Supported Decision-Making
Last August, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 134. The bill, which became effective on January 1st of this year, recognizes Supported Decision Making (SDM) as an alternative to guardianship for adults with disabilities. This option allows adults with disabilities to seek assistance in making important life decisions – but will still have all their legal rights.
The New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE) states, “Supported Decision-Making is a life planning tool and describes the process in which most individuals make decisions – by consulting with friends, family, social services, community organizations, and/or other sources of support to weigh the pros and cons of a decision, review potential outcomes, and finally make a choice.” People chosen to help the individual make decisions are known as “supporters” – and they may help with decisions relating to finances, education, employment, medical decisions, social activities, and any other aspect of their life they want or need some support with, but in the end the “decider” still makes the final decision. Because one can choose multiple “supporters” in the SDM option – someone could perhaps allow a sibling who works in the medical field to help them make medical decisions, while a parent who has spent their life working as an accountant could be chosen to help them make financial decisions.
Spectrum Institute is a non-profit organization focused on promoting guardianship and conservatorship reform and disability rights throughout the U.S. Legal Director Thomas Coleman said, “if properly implemented, the new law could help many adults avoid guardianship and allow them to have decision-making authority over personal and financial matters in their lives – just like everyone else.”
The bill’s prime sponsor, Wendy Chase, said “the state’s adoption of this important alternative to guardianship is a recognition that the autonomy of adults with disabilities should only be limited if absolutely necessary. Supported Decision-Making agreements can provide an alternative for families who wish to remain involved in the lives of loved ones with disabilities without diminishing their freedom to make choices about their own lives.”
Advocacy groups throughout the U.S. have criticized guardianships and conservatorships for taking away the autonomy of people with disabilities. The Disability Rights Center-NH (DRC-NH) states on their website “guardianship is a court-imposed structure that completely removes decision making from the person with a disability.”
While there are some instances when guardianship is the appropriate action to take, it is important to educate families in our state about the SDM option. Last year, DRC-NH, and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability (IOD) held a panel discussion on SDM and other alternatives to guardianship. The purpose of this panel was to encourage policies that promote the voices of people with disabilities. You can watch the panel discussion HERE. Zoe Brennan-Krohn from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) created a guide for people with disabilities and their families titled “How To Make a Supported Decision-Making Agreement”, so people could be better informed about the role of the supporters, deciders, and types of decisions.
Sophie Kellam is currently part of the Supported Decision-Making action group for the 2021-2022 New Hampshire Leadership Series. Sophie said, “our group is sending out a survey to schools in NH to gauge how informed they are about the new legislation and provide resources to make sure they are on the same page.”
By educating more adults with disabilities, parents, educators, and Direct Support Professionals/Home Care Providers about SDM, more people in our community will be able to choose this option.