(See bottom of this page for links to videos on this topic.)

When a young person with disabilities approaches the age of 18, the family is often told that they must seek conservatorship (guardianship)* or they will no longer be able to obtain information or provide guidance and support in the areas of healthcare, education and other services. Conservatorship removes a person’s civil liberties and gives the conservator binding authority over the person’s life. California and many other states have legal requirements stating that a conservatorship cannot be granted unless there are no less restrictive alternatives available.

While some adults with disabilities do need assistance with making decisions, conservatorship is the most restrictive and least reversible option available. Rather than providing a means of supporting decisions, conservatorship legally strips the person of the right to make decisions about their lives. Because conservatorships are rarely reversed, it removes the opportunity for people to learn from experience and develop their decision making abilities. Supported decision making (SDM) allows people to obtain guidance and support without relinquishing their legal rights to make decisions about their lives.

SDM means helping a person understand, make, and communicate her own decisions, without the need for the restrictions and inflexibility of conservatorship. The person with a disability chooses a person or a team of trusted people - family members, friends, neighbors, or others - to offer advice and assistance. The person may rely heavily on their supporters when making decisions, but the decisions ultimately remain within their control. As the person gains experience, the areas in which they seek support may change, and the people who they choose to support them may change.

SDM may include development of a written statement or formal contract, written in plain English, specifying the chosen support person/people. The contract can describe the role of the supporters and the content areas in which they may assist. Having a contract can be useful if the role of the supporter(s) is ever challenged by school staff, medical provider or other professional.

The purpose of this website is to help people with disabilities, families, advocates, and service providers understand:

  • some of the concerns about conservatorship, and
  • the promise and practice of SDM, including techniques and tools for how to use it.

* In California, a legal guardianship for an adult is called a conservatorship

Supported Decision Making (SDM) VIDEOS

Supported Decision Making

Supported Decision-Making:
Protecting Rights; Ensuring Choices


Supported Decision-Making:
5 Reasons to Re-Think Guardianship

Supported Decision-Making:
What Supported Decision-Making is
and why it Matters


Supported Decision Making,
an Alternative to Conservatorships


Alternatives to Conservatorship: Medical Treatment and the Rights of People who have

Developmental Disabilities

Date: February 10, 2016

Length: 1:34:57