Researchers from the University of Birmingham have found that people with intellectual disabilities receive much lower levels of support and guidance when making difficult decisions, especially those related to legal issues such as wills, advance decisions and power of attorney.

The new findings come from the ‘Everyday Decisions’ project, undertaken by academics from University of Birmingham’s, Law School. The project explored how people with intellectual disabilities make everyday decisions and how care professionals support them when they do.

The research looked at how mental capacity law works in practice, in order to identify good practice and where practical changes, shifts in social attitudes and legal reforms are needed to secure the rights of intellectually disabled people.

Although the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) 2005 are enshrined in policies relating to providing assistance to people with intellectual disabilities, including those with learning disabilities and acquired brain injuries, current levels of support fall short of the expectations and requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Professor Rosie Harding, University of Birmingham said:

‘instead of offering more support for more difficult decisions, such as medical, legal and financial decisions, professionals often defaulted to making ‘best interests’ decisions.

‘Capacity assessments were not always used on a decision-by-decision basis, with many frontline care professionals being uncertain about how to undertake them.’

It was found that support around making other decisions, such as those pertaining to day-to-day activities, food and clothing, was very good.

The researchers also found that the tools developed in care practice to support everyday decisions could be extended to help intellectually disabled people make more difficult life choices and decisions.

Professor Harding added:

‘The implementation of aids and improved methods of communication were a step towards this goal. Other techniques involved education, skills development and ‘scaffolding’ people towards making their own decisions’.

The researchers cited easy-read bank statements as an example of a simple solution making difficult activities, around managing finances, easier for disabled people.

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