On September 25, 2018, two students from the Cooke SKILLs (Skills and Knowledge for Independent Learning and Living) Vocational Program in New York City were the first to sign Supported Decision-Making Agreements (SDMAs) along with their chosen Supporters. In a moving signing ceremony, the two decision-makers and their designated supporters (family, friends and carefully chosen experts) sanctioned the agreements before a notary. One of the decision-makers shared these remarks with the room full of people assembled for the event: “Supported decision-making will help me be more independent. It will help me with doing more things for myself.” One of the Cooke parents, who along with five other Supporters chosen by her son to sign his SDMA had this to say: “As a parent, I was always against guardianship. I struggled with it for years, especially because my son was capable of making decisions for himself.” Summing up her experience as a parent and now, as a chosen SDM Supporter, she continued: “I feel it’s our job as parents to help our kids keep their dignity and have the opportunity to exercise their rights. They should have a major say in making decisions that affect their life. It is a load off my mind. I feel more peaceful now that my son will be well taken care of, but won’t be told what he can and cannot do. That means the world to me.”
Hon. Kristen Booth Glen, SDMNY Project Director and Former Surrogate Judge of Manhattan, addressed the Decision-Makers this way: “By signing your Agreement, you are letting others know that you are capable of making decisions with support. Your Agreement will serve as a guide for you and your Supporters as you navigate life’s many challenges…By being a part of SDMNY’s pilot project, you and your Supporters are pioneers in demonstrating how SDM can work as a better alternative to guardianship. And, as well, you are part of a worldwide movement that honors and respects the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities to make decisions like anyone else. That deserves our thanks at SDMNY, and our deepest congratulations.”
Two additional Cooke students are currently in the process of drafting Supported Decision-Making Agreements as participants in the SDMNY pilot project. “Supported decision-making enables students to ask trusted people in their lives for help or advice, just as you or I do, when making important decisions or even day-to-day decisions that may seem minor. They can do this instead of giving up their rights through guardianship,” said Katie Riordan, Cooke SKILLs Division Head. “It is important to provide a variety of options and pathways to parents and families when discussing their child’s future. We will continue to partner with the SDMNY Project. Their work to improve the rights of the disabled and foster a sense of independence among our students is invaluable and represents an alternative to guardianship that some of our students may want to pursue.”
This fall, the Cooke School will hold an information session on the SDMNY Project for parents and families who would like to learn more about SDM as an alternative to guardianship.