Celebrating the Far Too Often Lost Right to Make Your Own Decisions

During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, The Arc celebrates the decision to allow Ryan King, a man with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD), to make his own decisions.

According to a Washington Post column, Ryan King is a man in his 30s who was placed under the guardianship of his parents when he turned 18. For over 15 years, Ryan has worked at Safeway (a major grocery store chain in the Washington, DC area) and has been able to manage his own day-to-day needs.  For far too long, families like Ryan King’s, have been told they must put their children under guardianship without educating them on other less restrictive decision-making options. Too often courts have approved petitions for guardianship without first carefully exploring whether less restrictive alternatives could be effective.

Last year, Judge Russell F. Canan of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Probate Division empowered Ryan King to make his own decisions. Judge Canan ruled that through the use of supported decision-making Ryan was able to independently “receive and evaluate information effectively” and “communicate decisions.”  The court terminated the guardianship over Ryan King. In re: Ryan Herbert King, 2003 INT 249 (D.C. Super. Ct. October 6, 2016) (unpublished order).

The Arc believes that people with I/DD, such as Ryan King, must be presumed competent to make their own decisions. Through the process of supported decision-making, people with I/DD work with family members, friends, and other trusted advisors to get the support they need to make their own decisions and to build decision-making skills.  Depending on each person’s needs, legal agreements can be put in place to enable supporters to help implement the person’s decisions.  This can include appointing a representative payee or using powers of attorney, health care directives, and supporter agreements.  Simply put, supported decision-making promotes autonomy and should always be explored along with other less restrictive alternatives before guardianship is considered.

The Arc and our Center for Future Planning® are committed to promoting autonomy and expanding the use of decision-making supports. Here are some things we are focusing on:

Information. Families should have access to information about all options for assisting their family member to make decisions over the life course. Schools should not give legal advice to students and families, and should provide students and families with information about less restrictive alternatives to guardianship.

Skill-building. Individuals with I/DD should have access to supports and experiences to learn decision-making skills from an early age and throughout their lifetimes in educational and adult life service systems.

Less Restrictive Alternatives. State laws should require that less restrictive options are tried and found ineffective before guardianship is considered.

Rights. Regardless of their guardianship status, all individuals with I/DD retain their fundamental civil and human rights (such as the right to vote and the right to make decisions related to sexual activity, marriage and divorce, birth control, and sterilization) unless the specific right is explicitly limited by court order.

To explore decision-making options and to get tips on how to build decision-making skills, visit The Arc’s Center for Future Planning®.