Unlocking Independence: 5 Tools to Help People With Disabilities Thrive Without Guardianship

Contrary to popular belief, not all individuals with disabilities require guardianship. In fact, many flourish and lead fulfilling lives without this legal tool. While guardianship is appropriate for some adults with disabilities, especially those who may not remain safe without direct involvement of a guardian, many are able to navigate adulthood with a combination of appropriate supports.

The following list are just a few of the ways those with disabilities can be supported to lead independent lives.

Independence Through Individualized Support Plans:

One key factor is the development of individualized support plans. These plans, sometimes called supported decision-making plans, are tailored to the specific needs and capabilities of the individual, and provide a roadmap for assistance without restricting autonomy.

To create these plans, professionals work collaboratively with people with disabilities to identify strengths, preferences, and areas where support may be beneficial. This approach fosters independence by focusing on enhancing personal skills and addressing challenges without resorting to guardianship.

Not all doctors and therapists are willing to work together to create such a plan, so be sure to talk to your providers to see if they will. Individualized support plans are most effective when the person with disabilities is able to develop a plan they believe in and trusts the people who are there to support them.

Advancements in Assistive Technology:

The rapid advancement of assistive technology has revolutionized the lives of many people with disabilities. From communication devices to mobility aids, these tools empower individuals to navigate the world more independently. With the right technological support, many can manage daily tasks, communicate effectively, and participate in various activities without the need for a legal guardian.

There are organizations that help find the correct type of technology to meet the specific needs of an individual, and sometimes benefits such as Medicaid are able to pay for the equipment needed.

For more information about assistive technology options in Idaho, check out the Idaho Assistive Technology Project.

Inclusive Education and Employment Opportunities:

In recent years, there has been a positive shift towards inclusive education and employment opportunities. Many individuals with disabilities are now given the chance to learn and work alongside their non-disabled peers. This inclusive environment not only promotes a sense of belonging but also equips individuals with the skills and confidence needed to live independently.

Programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation, known as “Voc Rehab,” may be an option to assist in work training, on-the-job coaching, and the supplies needed to start a job. Other programs, such as Job Corps, provide opportunities for education and job placement assistance. As a result, the need for guardianship diminishes when individuals are empowered through education and employment.

For more information about work resources, look at the Idaho Department of Labor’s Able to Work website.

Community Support Networks:

Building strong community support networks is crucial for fostering independence. Local organizations and advocacy groups often provide resources, mentorship, and social connections that contribute to a person’s well-being.

Companies, known as “DDAs” or Developmental Disability Anciencies, are often able to connect adults with developmental disabilities to the community through planned activities and therapy. Churches and local non-profits frequently have ways to get involved that expands the participants circle of supports and connection. These networks create a safety net of assistance without imposing legal constraints.

By actively participating in their communities, individuals with disabilities often find the support they need from friends, family, and community organizations.

You can find more information about Medicaid-based options for adults with developmental disabilities by visiting the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Medicaid for Elderly or Adults with Disabilities website.

Legal Alternatives:

There are alternative legal arrangements that can provide the necessary support without the restrictive nature of guardianship.

  • Powers of attorney can be used to allow someone to step in and make decisions when the person with disabilities is not currently able.
  • Supported decision-making agreements, for example, enable individuals to appoint trusted supporters to assist with decision-making without surrendering their rights. This approach respects the autonomy of individuals while ensuring they have the support they need to make informed choices.

However, it is important to know that Powers of Attorney may be revoked, and Supported Decision Making agreements are not currently defined in Idaho law, so are most effective when the person with disabilities is an engaged partner in the plan, even when unable to safely make decisions on their own.

Next Steps:

While guardianship might be suitable for some, it is not a blanket requirement for all individuals with disabilities. By focusing on individualized support, leveraging assistive technology, promoting inclusive environments, building community networks, and exploring legal alternatives, we can create a world where everyone has the chance to unlock their independence.