How to Provide Better Support

The Person Who is Supporting Matters

It is important to always start from a place of “presuming capacity,” or assuming that a person is able to make their own decisions. Supporters should clearly confront any assumptions and biases they have about capacity, especially if they are based solely on a person’s IQ or diagnosis. It is also important to remember that capacity is not “all or nothing” capacity operates along a continuum – people can be very capable in some areas and not others, at certain times of the day, or with a particular type of support.  

Supporters should consistently ask “what would it take” to support the person to understand the issue and make a decision. Maybe a different format would help, like pictures or plain language. Perhaps note taking or offering reminders. No matter what, the goal is that people have the information they need in a way that works for them.

Video Description: Beatrice makes it clear how her supporters provide her with what she needs to manage her health care

What Does Good Support Look Like

As a supporter, you are an essential part of someone’s Supported Decision-Making plan and must clearly understand your role in the process.

People need to be included in all decisions and practice getting and giving opinions. This includes routine day-to-day matters such as clothing (what shirt do you want to wear today – the green one or the striped one?); breakfast selections (oatmeal or eggs?); choice of activities (watch the news, read a book, go for a swim, etc.). These small choices lead to more consequential decisions and gives a person the opportunity to be heard and have their voice respected.

Supporters can create opportunities for safe failing, so the person can connect the consequences of certain decisions. We all learn by doing and experiencing what works and what doesn’t.  This is an essential part of developing the skill of decision-making. Ultimately, supporters must respect the decisions a person makes.

Supporters should:

  • Believe in the person’s ability to make their own decisions,
  • Be chosen by the person,
  • Know the person well,
  • Know how the person learns and what they may need to help process new information,
  • Ensure that the person has what they need to make an informed choice, and
  • Know where to find information and other support.

Tips for Good Support

  • encourage and support people to make their own decisions,
  • provide information in a way that works for the person, 
  • give background information and,  
  • suggest possible outcomes.

What should supporters keep in mind?

A group of people with disabilities were asked what they wanted their supporters and parents to know and remember when supporting them, here are their words.

What do individuals need from supporters?

  • Help us (only when we ask)
  • Listen to us
  • Transportation
  • Assist us–Don’t do everything for us
  • Don’t take over!
  • Respect us
  • Help us understand things
  • Give us guidance/direction/advice
  • Give us encouragement
  • Motivate us
  • Get out of our way
  • Don’t control everything that we do
  • Respect choices even when you don’t like them
  • Slow things down
  • Remind us of past successe
Graphic with Quotes about the Role of Family Members in Supported Decision-Making

What should supporters keep in mind?

  • Understand us and help us say what we need to participate
  • Know us well
  • Help us understand things
  • Know when to back off
  • Don’t protect us too much
  • Don’t embarrass us