Supported Decision-Making

Supported Decision-Making is a method of developing decision-making skills by relying on Supporters to assist you in collecting information, processing information, and coming to a reasoned decision. Supported Decision-Making is an alternative to guardianship in that it provides a trusted environment for individuals who are seeking assistance with decision-making while still promoting self-determination. In contrast to guardianship, Supported Decision-Making is flexible and can change with the needs of the individual to provide more opportunities for independence and autonomy.

Imagine for a moment that you are standing in front of a vending machine full of food. You're hungry and you know you have some change in your pocket, but you don't know how to count it. How do you decide what to do?

You could start putting money in the machine and pressing buttons until something falls out. You could also just give all your money to someone else and hope they buy you something. Neither option is likely to get you what you want.

Putting money in the machine and pressing buttons is what it's like to live without support when you need assistance in decision-making. It doesn't mean you don't know what you want or you can't make informed decision. It simply means you lack the support you need.

Giving your money and decision-making authority to someone else is guardianship. You lose any ability to participate in the decision-making process, including choosing what decisions need to be made.

If you can think of any alternative besides putting your money in the machine and giving your money to someone else, you've chosen Supported Decision-Making. You've kept yourself as a critical part of the decision-making process and you've asked for the support you need to make a decision. Support can come in all forms and can be tailored your needs and your specific circumstances.


To learn more about Supported Decision-Making, or to request a training for your organization, contact Disability Rights Maine at 1.800.452.1948 or fill out our online contact form.


Q: What is Supported Decision-Making?

Supported Decision-Making (SDM) is a tool that allows people with disabilities to retain their decision-making capacity by choosing supports to help them make choices. 

Q: What does Supported Decision-Making actually look like?

Supported Decision-Making will look different for everyone. It means finding supports to help a person with a disability understand, make, and communicate their own choices. When using Supported Decision-Making, the person can execute a Supported Decision-Making agreement which identifies their method of decision-making. This document can help doctors, bankers, lawyers, and other third parties to understand and accept the decision of the person with a disability.

Q: What are some examples of tools used in Supported Decision-Making?

Examples of tools might be:

  • Plain language materials or information in visual or audio form
  • Extra time to discuss choices
  • Creating lists of pros and cons
  • Role-playing activities to help the person understand choices
  • Bringing a supporter into important appointments to take notes and help the person remember and discuss their options
  • Bill payment tools such as auto-payments or bill management notification apps

More questions? 

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