Britney Spears took a big step towards getting her life back on Wednesday when a judge suspended her father as a Tory. But the pop star had already won a major victory for herself and for the many, many other disabled people who have so often been denied their days in court and, with them, their free will in their lives by questioning. the constraints that had been imposed on him. Although Spears rose to fame thanks to her singing, it’s the voice she used to try to end her father’s control over her that does the most to free her not only her, but everyone who has. been in his place.
As a young lawyer with a disability, I know how speaking and being considered competent in court can be a very rare privilege.
As a young lawyer with a disability, I know how speaking and being considered competent in court can be a very rare privilege, as people with disabilities are so often denied independence and the opportunity to have their voices heard before the courts. courts. Even someone as wealthy and famous as Spears lost that power seemingly overnight when, following public mental health issues, she was placed under guardianship in 2008, with her father, Jamie, in charge. .
Under guardianship and guardianship, people can lose a wide variety of their civil rights, including the ability to choose where to live, who to marry, when and if to work, and what type of medical care (if any) to obtain. The AARP estimates that 1.5 million adults are under guardianship or guardianship in the United States, although that number may reach 3 million.
The majority of these adults are over 65 and have cognitive and mobility impairments that are perceived to make them unable to take care of themselves. Most of the rest have intellectual and developmental disabilities and are deemed incapable of making their own decisions. There are also some who suffer from mental and psychiatric disorders, as in the case of Spears.
Once the court grants a petition, often brought by family members, to declare a person with a disability incompetent and put in place a conservator, it can be incredibly difficult to be released even if that person wants to end it. the arrangement. The wishes of people with disabilities are often ignored because courts have ruled them incompetent to make their own decisions and almost always assume that guardians have a better understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.
When guardianship requests are contested, it can be difficult for the ward to be taken seriously by a judge. Spears broke that cycle when she tearfully shared in court the abuse she suffered – the forced placement of an IUD to avoid pregnancy, obstacles to seeing and marrying her current fiance and not having her word. to say when she works – and the judge fired her father as curator.
Her attention to the issue and the questions people are starting to ask about guardianship are crucial, as cases with public attention and level of awareness like Spears’ are unusual. (Some attorneys and the guardians they represent, like those in my home state of Florida, want the records to be even more confidential, which would limit oversight and liability.) Wards, meanwhile, recount heartbreaking stories of desperately trying to access legal services or being cut off from loved ones to avoid challenging Tory control.
But while it is encouraging to see the media and members of the public begin to discuss the guardianship system, self-advocacy is even more important: the ability of people with disabilities to communicate their own wants, needs and wants.
Since Spears’ testimony in June was made public, we’ve seen a mind-boggling demonstration of this: she spoke out against the abuse she suffered under the Guardianship, she got the right to choose her own lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, and to fight otherwise. at all times to oppose his conversation. In essence, Spears is doing what is generally unknown in the guardianship system by going to court, testifying, and defending his right to self-determination while the whole world watches.
Spears’ speech is a particularly powerful example for me, as I myself didn’t speak at all in my early years of life due to autism, a fairly common neurodevelopmental disability. I spoke late, forming personal sentences and ideas until around Kindergarten or Grade 1.
As I got older, with the help of my parents, talented educators, and speech and occupational therapists, I finally began to share my own thoughts and ideas aloud. But I never dreamed that I would end up going to law school or becoming a lawyer, because I thought they were meant to be loud and in your face.
However, I was determined to make a difference for people with disabilities and decided to pursue a law school once I realized that there is no one right way to be a lawyer. When I was sworn in to the Florida Bar, the swearing-in judge pointed out that, unlike many other lawyers, I would not take the ability to speak for granted.
I quickly became known as Florida’s first openly autistic lawyer. The nickname shouldn’t be necessary, as people with autism and disabilities should be given the opportunity to be authentic themselves rather than facing barriers to access, but the fact remains that too few neurodivergent people find ways to be. ways to openly participate in advocacy. This is another reason why Spears using her voice in court is so important.
What she has accomplished so far in her trusteeship case makes me believe that the best way forward for her is assisted decision making, as she might still need a team of financial advisers, from her fiancÃ©. , managers and others to help him. This process puts people with disabilities in the driver’s seat, enabling them to make decisions with the help and guidance of people they trust and have chosen to be there through decision support agreements.
Although guardianship laws and available alternatives vary from state to state, assisted decision-making typically allows supporters to speak and act on their behalf in specific situations to which the subjects of the agreements consent. For example, a person with a disability may designate a family member as the point of contact to speak with an owner, or the agreement may provide for a friend to speak at medical appointments.
Wednesday’s decision was a monumental victory for people with disabilities around the world who are fighting for their rights or to be released from their guardianship. It is time for the world to let people with disabilities speak out and then listen to what they are saying.