The Jenny Hatch Justice Project: A Rights Movement at the Right Moment

Guest Blog by Peter Blanck, Ph.D., J.D., University Professor, University of Syracuse Chairman, Burton Blatt Institute

I am honored to present the first guest blog for the Jenny Hatch Justice Project (JHJP). I wholeheartedly endorse the JHJP’s goal of advancing the rights of people with disabilities to make their own choices and determine their paths and directions in life.

I served as an expert witness in the "Justice for Jenny" case, testifying about the importance of choice and self-direction. I highlighted studies showing that people with disabilities who have more autonomous control over their lives have better life outcomes—they live longer and are healthier, are employed at better, inclusive, and higher paying jobs, are more integrated into their communities, and are better able to resist abuse and exploitation. I recommended that Jenny Hatch be given the opportunity to engage in Supported Decision-Making—what Professor Robert Dinerstein describes as "a series of relationships, practices, arrangements, and agreements, of more or less formality and intensity, designed to assist an individuals with a disability to make and communicate to others decisions about the individual's life"—as a less restrictive alternative to guardianship.

In a victory for Jenny and people with disabilities everywhere, the Court ruled that Jenny has a right to engage in Supported Decision-Making, instead of plenary, permanent guardianship. The case has received national and international attention. I have discussed and heard its implications debated at conferences, real and virtual, across the United States as well as in Europe.

In the wake of Jenny's victory, Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, who represented Jenny at her trial, created the JHJP to protect and promote the rights of District of Columbia residents with disabilities to engage in Support Decision-Making and other less-restrictive alternatives to guardianship. I am proud to be associated with the JHJP and to support this first-of-its-kind project. The JHJP will serve the nation’s capital and as a model for the rest of the country and world.

The JHJP is poised to help stimulate and develop best practices in Supported Decision-Making through evidence-based research and other methods. Syracuse law professor Nina Kohn and others have said that systematic study is needed to identify effective ways to support the decision-making capabilities and skills of people with disabilities. This is needed to understand the ways in which they may direct their lives to the maximum extent possible. 

Quality Trust is uniquely positioned to conduct and promote this examination. Since its inception, it has conducted system-wide, evidence-based investigations involving thousands of individuals. Quality Trust has set out its findings, putting forth its conclusions and proposing new courses of action. The JHJP is positioned also to lead a national and international conversation about the implementation of Supported Decision-Making. Quality Trust attorneys proved their skill in Jenny's case and are among the best I have ever worked with. They bring the same dedication and talent to advocating for systemic change as they did to protecting Jenny’s rights.   

The JHJP arrives as society has begun to realize that people with disabilities are people, first and foremost, with the same rights to live, strive, and succeed as everyone else. With the Justice for Jenny decision, Supported Decision-Making has been recognized as an effective and less-restrictive alternative to guardianship, enabling people with disabilities to make decisions for themselves, with access to the same supports and opportunities to gather information and receive assistance that we all enjoy.

I call on all stakeholders—the community of persons with disabilities, their families and friends, advocates, policymakers, professionals and researchers—to join me in welcoming, and supporting, the JHJP.