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Empowering Individuals with Disabilities

The DC Bar Foundation supports Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities; an independent, non-profit advocacy organization focused on improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families in the District. Part of their work includes the Jenny Hatch Justice Project (JHJP), which gives people with disabilities, families, advocates, attorneys, and professionals the tools they need to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities to make their own choices and determine their direction in life. One of those people supported by the JHJP is Francisco*.

A vibrant seventeen-year-old with Down syndrome, Francisco struggled to process his grief after his grandmother passed away. As a result, he experienced language regression and difficulty communicating with his family.

Francisco's school incorrectly told his mother that, when he turned 18, the only way she could remain involved in his educational decisions was to become Francisco's court-appointed guardian. Eager to preserve his decision-making rights, Francisco's mother reached out to JHJP for help in exploring less-restrictive options that would not cause him to lose his autonomy and potential for independence.

When the JHJP staff attorney met with Francisco, it was unclear whether he could knowingly and voluntarily execute legal documents. However, JHJP is committed to putting the time and effort into effectively accommodating people with disabilities. Francisco was a visual learner, so JHJP created an individually tailored PowerPoint presentation for him, complete with personalized photographs and video clips. JHJP then connected these personal images to key concepts associated with powers of attorney and statutory supported decision-making agreements (SSDMA. They illustrated what it means to be supported, trust someone, voluntarily pick someone to help, and decide what kind of authority to give them.

JHJP met virtually with Francisco several times, and his mother reviewed and practiced the PowerPoint with him at home. But, Francisco needed more time to get to a point where he could knowingly and voluntarily sign an SSDMA or power of attorney. Since he was fast approaching 18, the JHJP attorney assisted him in accessing two other less restrictive alternatives to guardianship that could help meet his decision-making needs in the short term: getting his mother to be recognized as his Educational Representative and as his Substitute Health Care Decision-Maker. She now can zealously and confidently advocate on behalf of Francisco at medical appointments and school meetings while he further builds his decision-making skills over time.

Quality Trust's unique brand of person-centered legal advocacy was the right fit for Francisco and his family, and the Foundation is proud to fund their work. To learn more about the Foundation's work, please visit our website.


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