All of us, at times, use the support of others when making decisions. People with an intellectual disability will go through a similar process but may need additional support.
Needing support to make decisions should not prevent people from exercising their rights and controlling their lives.
Family, whānau, friends, staff, workmates, volunteers, court-appointed welfare guardians and/or property managers all may have a role in supporting people with an intellectual disability to make decisions.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the government agreed to in 2008, people with disabilities are equal under the law and the necessary support must be provided so they can exercise their legal capacity. The Convention also requires safeguards to be put in place to prevent abuse if substitute decision-makers have been appointed.
Make a plan
Support your family member to lead the creation of a vision for their future, as early as possible. Support them to invite others to be involved in building a plan and putting it into action. Encourage them to think about where they want to live, work and spend leisure time in the future (see Having fun).
The skills needed to make decisions have to be practised. The decision-making process is always the same.
- Access easy-to-understand information in suitable formats (could be in an audio or visual format)
- Give the person extra time to understand the information
- Explore options
- Create a pros and cons list of the various options
- Make decisions
- Act on decisions
If you are a supporter, it is a good idea to record what you have done, to show how support was provided, who was involved, what and how options were explored and the preferences that people had.
Getting the right people involved
A useful approach is to support the person with a team of people. This is often called a circle of support. Ideally, the team will include people who have similar values and beliefs, are strategic thinkers, are passionate and committed and have a strong personal philosophy towards full inclusion of all people in the community. Believing in Better is a workbook that provides families with tools and encouragement to take the steps needed towards a positive future and supports the development of a circle of support.
Supporting a person with an intellectual disability to make their own decisions involves:
- Knowing and understanding the person who is being supported
- Using the person’s preferred communication style
- Having the right people involved
- Providing easy-to-understand information in different formats
- Exploring options
- Supporting the person to tell others their decisions
- Supporting the person to make the next steps work
- Reviewing the plan regularly
- People with intellectual disabilities have the right to be supported to make decisions in the way that suits them best. The support they need may change with each decision being made. Supporting Decision-Making: A Guide for Supporters of People with an Intellectual Disability is a resource developed by IHC Advocacy. The guide is designed for family, whānau, friends, staff, workmates, volunteers - basically anyone who may have a role in supporting people with intellectual disabilities to make decisions.
- There is also a very good decision-making guide produced by La Trobe University in Australia.
- A leaflet is available from the IHC Library which lists some excellent resources that can be borrowed by people who want to know more about how to support decision-making. Check out the library catalogue or phone 0800 442 442 to discuss what you’re after with a librarian.