JFS educates disability advocates on Supported Decision-Making

During the 2021 Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) this past February, Jewish Family Service introduced the concept of Supported Decision-Making (SDM) to the community. On Sept. 30, JFS is running a program specifically geared towards educators, service agencies and other professionals to help them understand that SDM is an alternative to traditional guardianship.

SDM involves the individual with a disability (aka “decision-maker”) to select trusted advisors, such as friends, family members or even professionals, to serve as supporters. These supporters agree to help the decision-maker to understand, consider and navigate complex decisions. Ultimately, the individual with disabilities makes the final decision. This is an alternate model from that of guardianship, where an adult with a disability is deemed incapticated, and the court will appoint a guardian to act on behalf of the adult and make decisions for them. As a result, the adult with disability loses their rights.

“It is important these professionals know and understand the alternatives to guardianship, as SDM might not be a well-known option and instead of recommending guardianship, other options can be explored first,” said JFS Disability Liaison Amanda Thomas, Ph.D. “SDM is a nationally recognized process for assisting people with life choices, without removing an individual’s independence or self-determination. SDM will look different for everyone. We all have used SDM in one way or another for life decisions (like buying a house or a car).”

The Sept. 30 program is co-sponsored by JFS and Lehigh Valley Center of Independent Living (LVCIL), who have formed a partnership to educate, implement and advocate for SDM in the Lehigh Valley. Thomas is the program manager of LVCIL’s Adaptations group, which works with adults with disabilities. She joined the JFS staff this summer as their new disability liaison.

Thomas’s doctorate is in special education, and she has over 13 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities as a classroom teacher, adjunct professor, researcher and program manager. In addition to the SDM event, she is already beginning to look at the programming for next year’s JDAIM and to plan other initiatives on disability awareness, such as inclusive practices for clergy. She is also hoping to present a program in the future for adults with disabilities to help them understand SDM and their rights.

Learn more and register here.