Young Adults at SKILLs First to Sign NYS Supported Decision-Making Agreements

Contact: Michael Eaton
VP of Advancement  
(212) 280-4473

                                 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
[September 24, 2018]


Young Adult Students with Disabilities at the Cooke School and Institute First to Sign Supported Decision-Making Agreements as Part of New York State Pilot Program

NEW YORK, NY – [September 24, 2018] – The Cooke School and Institute will be hosting a signing ceremony on Tuesday, September 25, 2018 at 254 West 29th Street at 6:00 pm as part of the Supported Decision-Making New York (SDMNY) Project. Two young adults, who are currently students in Cooke’s SKILLs (Skills and Knowledge for Independent Learning and Living) vocational program, will be the first to sign Supported Decision-Making (SDM) agreements as part of a unique partnership to preserve rights among people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) living in New York. SDM is a viable option for individuals who previously would have given up their rights through guardianship arrangements. With this new initiative, disability advocates across New York State are exploring the use of SDM agreements as a way to preserve the rights of the disabled when it comes to making decisions that will affect many aspects of their lives, including their finances, educational opportunities, healthcare and personal safety. “As a parent, I was always against guardianship. I struggled with it for years, especially because my son was capable of making decisions for himself,” said Cooke parent Larissa Baczyk. Ms. Baczyk’s son will be one of the young adults signing an agreement at the ceremony.

The SDMNY Project, a partnership between Hunter College/CUNY, the New York State Association of Community and Residential Agencies, Disability Rights New York and Arc of Westchester, and funded by the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, promotes supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship. Supported decision-making is a process where an individual can arrange for specific people (family, friends and experts) to help them explore their options when making decisions. The project hopes to increase awareness and develop a formalized process that spells out the rights and obligations of people with I/DD and a variety of self-selected supporters, including family members, friends or trusted experts. “Supported decision-making enables students to ask trusted people in their lives for help or advice, just as you or I do, when making important decisions or even day-to-day decisions that may seem minor. They can do this instead of giving up their rights through guardianship,” said Katie Riordan, Cooke SKILLs Division Head.

A small group of students have been participating in SDMNY’s pilot program, and after months of work with trained facilitators and staff from Hunter College/CUNY, two students will be the first young adults to sign agreements outlining their wishes for how they want to make decisions in the future. Ms. Baczyk summed up her experience with the program: “I feel it’s our job as parents to help our kids keep their dignity and have the opportunity to exercise their rights. They should have a major say in making decisions that affect their life. It is a load off my mind. I feel more peaceful now that my son will be well taken care of, but won’t be told what he can and cannot do. That means the world to me.”

Results of the pilot program will be distributed in educational materials aimed at a variety of stakeholders, including parents, legal professionals, legislators and special education professionals. During the pilot, students worked with a trained facilitator to map out how to make decisions (now and in the future) in a variety of areas including money management, relationships, community living and health care. Students chose supporters (trusted individuals who will help them make decisions in the future). Then they documented how they want to receive support from those supporters and outlined the types of decisions they are likely to want help with.

Two additional Cooke students are currently in the process of drafting supported decision-making agreements as part of the project. “It is important to provide a variety of options and pathways to parents and families when discussing their child’s future,” said Katie Riordan. “We will continue to partner with the SDMNY Project. Their work to improve the rights of the disabled and foster a sense of independence among our students is invaluable and represents an alternative to guardianship that some of our students may want to pursue.” This fall, the Cooke School will hold its next information session on the SDMNY Project for parents and families who would like to learn more about SDM as an alternative to guardianship.

Michael Eaton, VP Advancement
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 730
New York, NY  10115
(212) 280-4473

About the Cooke School and Institute:
Founded in 1987, the Cooke School and Institute has been providing quality special education services to students with special needs for more than 30 years. Cooke envisions a world in which all people with special needs are included as valued members of their communities, leading independent and purposeful lives. The Cooke School serves some 300 students (K-12th grade); it also provides comprehensive transition services and academic, social and vocational support through its SKILLs (Skills and Knowledge for Independent Learning and Living) program for 18-21 year olds. Cooke’s consulting and teacher training division, the Cooke Institute, provides professional development and coaching services to teachers (Pre-K through high school), and impacts more than 6,000 students annually. To learn more about Cooke’s programs, visit: