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    Freedom for Ryan King: One Less Barrier to Independence for Individuals with Disabilities

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    Ryan King, 33, works at Safeway in Northwest Washington. King, who has intellectual disabilities, and his parents want him to be legally independent of them. (Andrew Lightman) via Washington Post

    NEW YORK — In a landmark Court victory, Ryan King won the right to direct his own life, with the support of his family, finally free after 15 years under a guardianship he never needed. When Ryan turned 18, his parents were told they had to become his guardians in order for him to receive services from the District of Columbia.

    Even though they had raised Ryan to be independent, believed he could make his own decisions, and had always supported him to do so, they reluctantly agreed. But, Ryan and his family never stopped hoping that, one day, he would be legally free to make his own decisions, the same as every other citizen. Then, inspired by the “Justice for Jenny” case and the work of the Jenny Hatch Justice Project and the National Resource Center for Supported Decision Making, partnerships between Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities (QT) and the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University (BBI), they decided to ask the Court to end Ryan’s guardianship.

    Working with attorney Jonathan Martinis through a legal clinic established by QT and BBI, Ryan and his family told the Court that Ryan uses Supported Decision-Making (SDM) to make his own decisions. When people use SDM, they work with trusted friends, family members, and professionals to help them understand the situations and choices they face, so they can make their own decisions without the “need” for a guardian. They presented evidence of Ryan’s history of making decisions and directing his life using SDM, as well as research showing that people with disabilities who exercise more control over their lives – who have more self-determination – have been found to have better life outcomes. After reviewing this material and hearing from Ryan and his family, the Court terminated the guardianship.

    Ryan and his family, who will be supporting him as he directs his own life, are elated by the decision. “It feels good not to be under guardianship, because I have always made my own decisions,” said Ryan King. “As a family, we are thrilled with the Court’s decision,” said Ryan’s Mother, Susie King. “We hope that this is just the beginning of Supported Decision-Making being recognized in the District of Columbia and beyond.”

    “Ryan and his family demonstrate the promise and the practice of SDM,” said BBI Chairman and University Professor at Syracuse University Peter Blanck. “Research shows that, when people with disabilities, like Ryan, are given the chance to make their own decisions and control their own lives, they can lead better and richer lives.”

    “Defending the right of people with disabilities to direct their own lives is a core value for our work at QT,” said QT CEO Tina M. Campanella. “QT has been proud to know and work with Ryan and his family for years, and we are so pleased with this outcome. Through his fight to restore his legal rights, Ryan is a living example of how people with disabilities make the most of their abilities.”

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