INCLUDE, the Mithoff Pro Bono Program’s disability law project, has launched an exciting partnership with the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin. Earlier this fall, law students taught classes about guardianship, and then provided one-on-one counseling on alternatives to it, to nearly 50 deaf and hard of hearing young adults residing at the historic campus on South Congress.
Alternatives to guardianship have been a focus for INCLUDE volunteers for several years, beginning with the passage of the Texas Supported Decision Making Act, the nation’s first statute authorizing the use of non-judicial supportive decision-making agreements (SDMAs) instead of restrictive guardianships for qualified adults with disabilities. The approach builds skill and independence in those choosing to participate in life’s decisions with supports from a designated person they trust. This spring, the deaf students who received counseling will meet with law students, law faculty, and volunteer probate attorneys in Austin for a second counseling session – this time with chosen supporters — to execute their SDMAs.
“It’s exciting to see Texas Law venture out into the D/deaf community,” said Caroline Burks, a 1L who is herself deaf. “Counseling while mindful of cultural difference – and through interpreters – was a really challenging and interesting experience for me and for my law student peers.”