Under conservatorship, disabled adults face restrictions on a wide variety of rights: Where they live, when and where they work, money management, and healthcare decisions. Conservatorships are often thought of as something that only happens to elderly people who can no longer care for themselves, people with terminal illnesses, or for people like me, who are diagnosed with autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Because of the sensitive nature, proceedings relating to conservatorship are often private and confidential.
Sometimes I think about how, as an autistic person, I am extremely lucky that guardianship was not part of my adult life. I was once non-speaking and it was unclear what kind of support I would need as an adult. The support I needed as a little kid is not the same I needed as a college student, nor is that the same as the support I can use in my post-schooling life. Thankfully, I have parents who always believed in my ability to make decisions for myself and promoted my independence and choice to follow my dreams. Not all of us are as fortunate because parents of autistic and other disabled children may assume they will always be the best decision-makers, or are they are not told about less restrictive alternatives like supported-decision making, supplemental needs trusts, or other available options that aren’t incredibly difficult to reverse like conservatorship.
There is no doubt Britney Spears did the right thing in receiving or seeking mental health treatment over a decade ago. But losing her civil rights didn’t have to happen, nor should it continue to happen to people with disabilities. Instead, conservatorships and guardianships should be seen as an absolute last resort given how difficult they are to get out of — if Britney has been fighting to end her conservatorship for 13 years, imagine how difficult it is for disabled people who encounter numerous barriers to access to courts, lawyers, and education about their own rights, all who deserve respect and have opinions that should be heard and honored.
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