People First Wisconsin

3195 S. Superior Street Milwaukee, WI 53207

414-483-2546    414-483-2568

 Views on Guardianship 


People with disabilities need personal
guardians, not legal guardianships.



personal guardian: a committed ally that assists a person with a disability to understand, explore and make good choices, and to be successful in living out the choices s/he makes; a person that champions the dreams of someone with a disability, and helps that person find a positive way to make those dreams come true; a person without permanent legal power to substitute his/her preferences for those of the person with a disability.

Re-Thinking Guardianship

 * The way to keep people safe from harm and exploitation by others is through a relationship of partnership, mentoring and empowerment.

* If we strip people with disabilities of their adult rights, we strip them of their personal sense of authority, which only makes them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. They don't know how to say "no" because they don't get the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

* We will never know how able people might be -- to make a choice, express a preference, show us how they feel about something -- unless we work at supporting and nurturing their own decision-making.

* We must "guard" the rights and personhood of people with disabilities, just as much as we "guard" their safety.

People with disabilities can't survive without personal guardians; but they can survive without legal guardianships.


For people to survive well, without legal guardianships... 

People with disabilities must:   Personal guardians must:

Have people in their lives who know them well and can help them teach others about what is important to them.

Have people in their lives who understand the way they express choices and preferences, and can teach others to understand this also.

Learn how to ask for help when making tough decisions.

Learn how to resist pressure to make quick decisions without being able to ask others they trust for help.

Have the chance to learn how to consider choices, and/or get hands-on chance to experience different options before deciding on one. 


Learn how each person with a disability can best consider choices and express preferences, and make sure these opportunities are made available.

Present a few positive options, and be prepared to support whichever one the person chooses.

Stay connected to the person so you know when important or difficult choices are facing the person.

Intervene most in helping people make a success of the choices they make, instead of making the choice for them.

Recognize there is no guarantee things would work out perfectly if you chose for the person.


For people to survive well, without legal guardianships... 

Society must: Support Agencies must:

Crack down on people who abuse or exploit people with disabilities.

Create legitimacy for personal guardians in the same way there is legitimacy for legal guardians now.

Become less focused on legal contracts and more focused on inter-personal relationships.

View people with developmental disabilities as something other than eternal children.

If legal guardianships are necessary for some individuals, they should be:  
  • Limited to only the areas where the person requires them;
  • Time-Limited to ensure there are regular opportunities for people to regain their rights if possible;
  • Accompanied by Training available to the person under guardianship and their support staff about the rights they maintain.

Understand the limits of guardianship and allow people to exercise the rights they are entitled to, even when under guardianship.

Respect personal guardians in people's lives the same way they respect legal guardians now.

View the task of teaching decision-making skills as equally important as the task of teaching other independent living and self-care skills.

Offer people decision-making opportunities and experiences, in a thoughtful way, and according to individual circumstances.

Create choice for people, even where it would be easiest for your agency to have there be only one option.

This is a draft position paper on guardianship. People First Wisconsin invites your comments. Please write to us and share your thoughts.