Pitching a legislative committee on a bill that would provide a framework for individuals with disabilities and elders to make their own decisions with the aid of people they trust, advocates described the planned arrangement as a process not that different from the way lawmakers would work together to consider their bill.
The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities heard testimony Monday on bills that would formally allow someone to enter into a supported decision-making agreement, where they can appoint another trusted adult to assist them in making and communicating decisions about their affairs, instead of having a guardian make choices for them.
“Everyone uses supported decision-making every day, even you all sitting here today,” said Kim Plaut, a board member of the self-advocacy organization Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong. “Supported decision-making is like talking to a friend or a coworker about how they can choose to do something, like today you are going to talk about whether or not you make this bill pass in here. That is exactly what supported decision-making is — it’s about making decisions with each other and the people that we trust.”
Supporters said the measure was not designed to replace guardianships, but to provide a less restrictive option where appropriate.
Malia Windrow-Carlotto told the committee that when her son Cory, who is on the autism spectrum, was about to turn 18, she and her husband felt he needed more time to develop his decision-making skills.
“This left us with a dilemma,” she recalled. “How do we protect Cory? In the meantime, do we deny him the rights that law would provide?”
Windrow-Carlotto said the family’s options were presented as a binary: guardianship or no guardianship. They entered into a guardianship, she said, and in 2015 Cory joined a supported decision-making pilot program and became the first Massachusetts resident to have a court terminate his guardianship for a supported decision-making agreement.
“Cory has flourished since he started using SDM,” Windrow-Carlotto said. “He is now living in his own apartment, has traveled the country with his friends and is now working full-time. Supported decision-making has helped our son become the adult he wishes to be, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Rep. Paul Tucker and Sen. Joan Lovely, both Salem Democrats, filed the supported decision-making bills (H 272, S 124).
Last session, the committee redrafted and advanced House and Senate versions of supported-decision making bills. In the Senate, the bill died in the Ways and Means Committee, while the House granted initial approval to its bill but took no further action on it.
“This trusted partnership has shown it has much better outcomes across the board,” Tucker said. “We know that it has been shown to be successful in the 11 states that are currently doing this. It’s really about a trust and a comfort level in place here, reducing the need for other, more coercive forms of intervention.”