Supported Decision Making Program

Supported decision making (SDM) is a more flexible alternative to guardianship that provides older adults and people with disabilities. It is a process of working with an individual to identify where help is needed and devising an approach for providing that help. Different people need help with different types of decisions. For some, it might be financial or health care decisions. Some may need help with many types of decisions, while others need help with only one or two. 

The solutions also are different for each person. Some people need one-on-one support and discussion about the issue at hand. For others, a team approach works best. Some people may benefit from situations being explained pictorially. With SDM, the possibilities are endless.

The key is that the process is centered on the person to whom the decisions apply, and it enables the person to make decisions based on his or her wants and preferences. SDM keeps control in the hands of the individual, while providing assistance in specific ways and in specific situations that are useful to the person.

In 2014, ACL awarded a cooperative agreement a cooperative agreement to the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities to establish a SDM technical assistance center.

The Purpose of the Program

The purpose of this program is to create a training and technical assistance and resource center on SDM through a cooperative agreement.

Program Information

Program Period:
September 1, 2014 – August 31, 2019

Award Amount:
$325,000 per year

CFDA Number:

Assistance Type:
Cooperative Agreement

Grantee Name and Contact:
Quality Trust
5335 Wisconsin Ave NW Suite 825
Washington, DC 20015-2103

Objectives of the Program

ACL along with Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities and their partners, the Burton Blatt Institute of Syracuse University (BBI), The Kansas University Life Span Institute (KU), The American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging (ABA), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Family Voices (FV), and Parent to Parent USA (P2P), will work to:

  • Document and disseminate successful supported decision-making practices;

  • Conduct research to fill data and information gaps;

  • Develop training materials and provide technical assistance to ACL networks on SDM issues, including youth transition;

  • Develop a strategy that measures and demonstrates the impact of supported decision-making on the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and older Americans;

  • Design and implement a small grants demonstration program that funds four-to-seven community organizations no later than the 8th month of the first year of this project; and

  • Develop a clearinghouse of existing materials and resources, academic work and practices, success stories, and newly-developed research and training materials, to be made available to the general public.

Program Activity

To date, the Program has:

  • Created the Supported Decision Making website;

  • Presented at numerous conferences on SDM;

  • Developed and presented multi-part webinar series;

  • Created and implemented a state grant program;

  • Worked to develop policy and practice related to SDM;

  • Convened national conference on SDM;

  • Conducted literature review on the capacity, environmental demands, and supports needed for SDM;

  • Worked to develop a SDM assessment;

  • Initiated a survey of people using SDM;

  • Funded four state-based organizations or consortiums to review guardianship policy and procedure in their states and develop innovative methods to increase knowledge, access to, and implementation of SDM;

  • (Under the project, the ASAN) created “The Right to Make Choices: International Laws and Decision-Making by People with Disabilities,” a guide for self-advocates. Portions that were equally applicable to U.S. law and policy were paid for using NRC-SDM funds.

  • Worked with the ABA to develop a new tool, PRACTICAL, and practice guide for attorneys who represent possible guardianship petitioners or respondents, who serve as guardians ad litem, or who serve as guardians; and

  • Began developing a pilot version of the Supported Decision Making Inventory System (SDMIS), which measures capacity, environmental demands, and needed supports for SDM.

Resources and Useful Links

Find other information and resources related to ACL’s SDM efforts at the following partner websites:

Last modified on 08/30/2017

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