Learn how you can use these steps as you DECIDE your future: Direct, Enlist, Choose, Inform, Determine, and Experience
What is Supported Decision-Making?
Everyone gets help making decisions. People with disabilities may simply need a different type of help.
Everyone gets help making decisions. That help may come from friends, family, professionals, or even through researching. We all seek information in the ways that we best understand so we can consider our options and ask others for advice. Some people may require more or different help to accomplish their goals but the process is exactly the same.
Supported Decision-Making involves a person getting the help they need to make a decision. These methods can be different from person to person, but the foundation of Supported Decision-Making is having a plan that details who will support you and how. That plan must respect a person’s autonomy by making sure the person makes their own decisions and that their decision-making rights are not removed or diluted. Decisions are made by the person who needs support, not for them.
The Supported Decision-Making Process
Supported Decision-Making is not about doing it on your own but directing the people in your life to help you make the decisions you want and need to make. You need to give clear instructions and feedback, so you get what you need.
Learning More About SDM
You’ve probably heard about Supported Decision-Making, but if you want to use it for yourself or someone else it’s important you understand it well.
Supported Decision-Making is a way to get the help you need – from trusted people you choose – to understand your choices, ask questions, and receive answers in the way that works best for you, so you can make your own decisions about your life.
When you use Supported Decision-Making you can get advice or help from your supporters, but you are the decision maker, not anyone else. Your supporter should only share thoughts on what they believe is best, leaving the final decision up to you.
Supporters are not like guardians. A guardian makes decisions for you. You can tell your guardian what you would like, and your guardian may make a decision you disagree with if they think their choice is the right one.
Guardians are chosen by a judge in a court hearing. To start using Supported Decision-Making, you do not have to go to court or pay a lawyer. To use Supported Decision-Making, you must first understand the process, then choose the areas in your life where you want support, and invite supporters to help you. After you choose where you want support and the supporters you want to help you, it is a good idea to create a Supported Decision-Making Plan. Having a written plan helps make sure everyone understands how you want supported decision-making to work for you. There are many types of plans already available, or you can create your own. You can learn more about agreements and plans in our Getting Started Guide or in our Resources.
What Support Do You Want?
You get to decide the areas in your life where you want help making decisions. Some people decide to get help with health care or financial decisions, but you can also use SDM to get help with relationships, employment, or how to spend your free time. Any decision that is important to you where you want to get help is a good place to start. You might have a specific goal like moving out or going on vacation that you want help with but are already making most of your other decisions. Maybe you are just learning to make your own decisions and you want help in many different ways. Supported Decision-Making can work in all those ways; remember, there is not only one way to use Supported Decision-Making. If you want some help thinking about your strengths and areas where you might want more support, you can check out our Tools & Guides.
The people who will support you need to know what you want and how best to support you. You need to be sure they understand the process and are committed to helping you long-term. Enlisting their support means everyone understands and is ready to be a part of the team.
Who Will Support You?
Some people choose just one supporter. Other people have a team of many supporters. A supporter can be anyone you know who wants to help you with making decisions and the right number of supporters is your choice. You should pick people who you trust to help you make decisions. Supporters can be family members, neighbors, caregivers (paid or unpaid), people from a faith community, friends; really anyone who:
- you trust,
- knows you well,
- understands you and the things you care about,
- knows how to find out information and other people to help,
- communicates well with you in a way you can understand, and
- will be available to help you for as long as you need them.
Sometimes you might need to find new supporters or get to know more people who could become supporters. The Friends Manual can be a helpful tool for growing your networks and strengthening your relationships.
You might already know some people who would make good supporters. Asking yourself these questions might help you think of people to invite to help you:
- If you need help understanding a money problem, who could you ask?
- Does anyone help you at medical appointments?
- Who can you talk to about serious things?
- Who do you trust with your personal information?
- Who understands your disability and how it affects your life?
- Who helps you understand when you are confused or scared about something?
You can get help deciding who to choose as a supporter from anyone you want to ask.
After you choose who you want to be your supporters, you need to ask them to help you with your decision-making and help them understand Supported Decision-Making and what it means for you. You can talk to them directly or on the phone; some people send letters or emails. Here is a sample letter you can review: Sample Letter
Supported Decision-Making includes many choices – you will choose the people you want to support you, how they work together (or don’t), and what type of tools and supports work best for you when making decisions.
How Will Your Supporters Support You?
It is your choice how your supporters will support you. You might choose for supporters to work together or work separately on just one kind of decision. You might choose for supporters to help you find information in a way that you understand or you might choose for supporters to have meetings with you to discuss issues and choices. Writing down how you want your supporters to help you in your plan or agreement is a good idea so everyone understands how you want help making decisions.
Having one supporter works really well for some people, but it’s important to think about if it is right for you. If you choose to only have one supporter, you might want to think about these questions:
- Who can help if my supporter is not available?
- Does my supporter know a lot about the area or areas I want support in?
- Will my supporter be able to help me with all the decisions I need help with?
Most people choose to have a few supporters who can help them make decisions. If you pick more than one supporter, you can choose if your supporters will all work together or not.
Some people pick one supporter to help them in one part of their life, like educational decisions, and a different supporter to help them in a different part of their life, like budgeting and money decisions. Other people decide that they will have their supporters help with all their decisions. For example, if you had to make a decision about your health, you could talk to your sister or your neighbor who is a nurse or you could talk to them both together.
You might be wondering what happens if your supporter does not agree with your decision. Your supporter can tell you that they do not agree, and explain why they do not agree with you, but your supporter cannot make the decision for you. Your supporters are there to give you advice and help you understand, so it’s important to consider the information and opinions they share, but you are the decision-maker.
For example, imagine that you have to decide whether to look for a new job. You can ask your supporters for help deciding what might be good or bad about finding a new job. Your supporters can help you think about what might happen if you choose to keep your job or get a new one. Your supporter can even tell you what they think is the best decision for you; however, the decision is always up to you. So, even if one of your supporters disagrees with your decision, they cannot stop you from changing jobs. It is your choice.
Again, you choose how to work with supporters. This is best for you because you are in charge. You can make changes if it is not working well or if you don’t like the way your supporters are supporting you.
You will need to tell or inform the people in your life about Supported Decision-Making and how it works for you. You might need to tell doctors or teachers or people who work in other businesses. You want to make sure all the people in your life are informed of how you make decisions.
Making a Plan
Writing down and signing a Supported Decision-Making agreement to show how you make decisions and who helps you is a good idea when you are using Supported Decision-Making. A written agreement helps you inform other people about how you use Supported Decision-Making. Many people, like doctors, bankers, or other people in the community, have not heard of Supported Decision-Making. Having a written and signed Agreement can help you explain how your supporters work with you.
Your Agreement should be made specifically for you and include all the information about how you use Supported Decision-Making. Writing this down can be a good, final step to make sure you and your supporters know what to expect and how the process will work. Signing an Agreement shows that everyone agrees and understands how you work together and support your decision making.
There are many sample agreements and guides to help you create a plan available on our resources page. You can also review several samples and decide to create your own unique plan. If you are in a state with an Supported Decision-Making law, you should talk to someone in your state to understand how agreements work there.
Some people choose to make their plan an official document by having a professional observe you when you sign it. This person is called a notary; a notary is someone with a license from the state who verifies or double checks the people who are signing important documents. The notary should watch you sign your Supported Decision-Making Agreement and will check your identification. Then the notary will apply a stamp or seal to your Supported Decision-Making Agreement, which means the Agreement is then “notarized.” Having your Supported Decision-Making Agreement notarized is a way of making it more official. If your agreement is notarized, it shows there was a witness there when you signed it, and other people may view it as more official. This could help you if you choose to show your Supported Decision-Making Agreement to a doctor, a banker, or someone else in the community. Most notaries will witness your signature for free and can often be found at libraries, your bank, and at local government offices like city hall or town hall and some law firms. If you are close to the Georgia Advocacy Office in Decatur, they offer free notary services.
Some people choose to include other official documents as a part of their Supported Decision-Making Plan. The two most common are an Advanced Medical Directive and a Power of Attorney.
- An Advanced Medical Directive lets you make some healthcare decisions now in case something happens and you cannot make your own decisions in the future. You can choose certain types of treatment you want or don’t want and you say who else can make healthcare decisions instead of you. To use an Advance Directive, you fill out a form where you answer questions or write in the healthcare treatment you want or don’t want and list who can make decisions for you. Completing an Advance Directive is a good idea for everyone because it gives you a chance to pick out ahead of time who you would want to make health care decisions for you in an emergency.
- A Power of Attorney lets you choose someone to take care of your finances, business, or legal issues if you are not able to. This can be helpful if you own a house or have lots of money, but it can also be useful if you want to choose another person to handle certain financial, business or legal matters; like signing a lease, buying a car or starting a business. Some people want extra help when it comes to these complicated matters, and a power of attorney lets you choose who can act on your behalf .
To use a Power of Attorney, you fill out a form listing the type of decision you want the other person to make (financial, business, legal) who can make the decision and how long they have the power to make that decision for you.
Power of Attorney can be complex depending on your individual situation and the laws in your state. It can be a good idea to talk to a lawyer if you are using Supported Decision-Making and think you might also want to use a Power of Attorney.
Who Else Needs to Know?
After you have enlisted your supporters, chosen the support that you want, and signed your Supported Decision-Making Agreement, you should inform the people in your life who need to know about it. Some people to think about informing are your doctors and specialists, any service providers or therapists, your bank, and your school. Deciding who to share your Supported Decision-Making Agreement with is another choice you get to make. You should think about the types of decisions you want to be in charge of and who else is involved with that decision.
You may have to spend some time informing these people about what supported decision-making is and how it works. Remember that many people have not heard about Supported Decision-Making, so it may be hard for them to understand at first and you may have to explain how you are using it. If you have been under a guardianship in the past before you started using Supported Decision-Making, it is especially important to tell people like your doctors or bank that you are now using supported decision-making and make your own decisions. You will also want to include a copy of the court order showing you are no longer under guardianship.
When you use Supported Decision-Making, you may want your doctors or your school or your bank to share information with some or all of your supporters. However, there are laws that protect your private information and make sure you are in control of what others can learn about you. To give your supporters permission to access your personal information, you can use a Release of Information form. There are different types of forms based on the information, like health care or education or financial. If any business or agency tells you they can’t share information with someone else, you can ask for a Release of Information form.
Supported Decision-Making is about making sure you have what you need to live and lead the life you want. You can set goals and get the help you need to accomplish them. You determine what your life looks like and what you will achieve.
You Made a Plan, Now What?
It’s a good idea to think about how you are going to use your Supported Decision-Making plan. Some people choose to have a meeting with their supporters once a month or a couple times a year. This works well for major decisions that don’t come up every day, like moving or changing doctors. This also works if you feel pretty confident about making most decisions and just want to check in for more difficult ones. Some people like to use their plan every time they need to make a decision, like when they get paid, to budget their money, or to decide what to do for the weekend. You should think about what will work best for you and your supporters and the types of decisions you need to make.
If you make an Supported Decision-Making agreement and something is not working, you can always change your agreement. You are in charge of your Supported Decision-Making agreement and you can make changes until it works best for you. You can change supporters, adding a new one or telling a supporter you do not want their help anymore. You decide if there are some decisions you feel confident to make on your own now or if you want to add a new area to get support. It is YOUR plan, and you determine how it works.
How Will Your Supporters Support You?
Most people get better at making decisions over time. The more you practice, the more you will learn and accomplish. You need experiences to learn what works best for you and opportunities to try new things.
Decision-Making Takes Practice - So Get Out There!
Having opportunities to learn new things and try out your decisions is very important. You need a chance to see what happens when you make one choice instead of another. Sometimes your decisions will not lead to the outcome you wanted, but your supporters are there to help you find another way and learn what you can do differently next time. No one is a perfect decision-maker, and we all make mistakes. It is important to think about what you need to keep yourself healthy and safe while having a good life!