Intellectual Disability and Financial Decision Making

by Catherine Aitken

Everyone has the right to have a say in their finances, even if that person needs help making decisions. People living with intellectual disability face barriers when wanting to improve their own money skills and make independent financial decisions.

Australia, as signatory to United Nations Conventions on the Rights of People with Disability (UN-CRPD), recognises that people with a disability have the same rights as everyone else.

The UN-CRPD contains eight guiding principles:

  • respect for inherent dignity and individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices non-discrimination

  • full and effective participation and inclusion in society

  • respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity

  • equality of opportunity

  • accessibility

  • equality between men and women

  • respect for evolving capacities of children with disabilities, and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

In their 2014 Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws Final Report, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) endorsed the reform of legislation, policy and practices to reflect the UN-CRPD. They recommended four National Decision-Making Principles to provide a framework for reviews of state, territory and Commonwealth legislation:

Principle 1: The equal right to make decisions All adults have an equal right to make decisions that affect their lives and to have those decisions respected.

Principle 2: Support Persons who require support in decision-making must be provided with access to the support necessary for them to make, communicate and participate in decisions that affect their lives.

Principle 3: Will, preferences and rights The will, preferences and rights of persons who may require decision-making support must direct decisions that affect their lives.

Principle 4: Safeguards Laws and legal frameworks must contain appropriate and effective safeguards in relation to interventions for persons who may require decision-making support, including to prevent abuse and undue influence.

In other words, to the greatest extent possible, people with intellectual disability are to be included in all decisions about them. Even though these individuals have the same financial rights as others, they often are not encouraged to participate and improve their financial capability.

Many people report overly controlling supporters who conflate safety with wellbeing. Well-meaning supporters, who make decisions without involving the adult, often leave the adult feeling untrusting, isolated, and further behind their peers. This can lead to further vulnerabilities and risks for the person. The supporters then appear at a loss when the relationship becomes fractured.

ADA Australia recognised there was a need for further education about these individuals’ rights, and the responsibilities of their supporters to provide access to education, information and support.

Supporting financial decisions. Improve your money know how. Hear other people's stories. Know your right to be included in decisions. Grow your own money skills. Learn how to best support someone.

Accessible Education

Through the funding provided by Ecstra Foundation, ADA Australia was able to create the accessible video resources, Supporting Financial Decisions, which are freely available on YouTube to view and share.

In creating useful resources, it was important to consider how a person with intellectual disability accesses information and education; that their support networks may be unaware of appropriate ways to support them; and how to deliver a message without being patronising or critical.

Reference groups were formed of people with intellectual disabilities and other stakeholders, including government and non-government agencies. The reference groups were key to developing resources which can be easily understood and very approachable.

Particular attention was paid to language and style, and the stories told were informed by true, relatable experiences.

Also identified was the importance of acknowledging that the supporters’ intention is usually to do the right thing. Approaching education from this perspective enhances the likelihood that supporters will adopt the practices recommended.

As these resources raise awareness, it is important for them to inform people of how and where to access further information and education. Considerable time was spent researching existing financial capability resources and referring to some of these.

Image taken from Supporting financial decisions video

New Resources

The Supporting Financial Decisions videos are free to access on YouTube and available with optional closed captions. The videos can help educate people with intellectual disability, their supporters and network about:

  • The rights of individuals who need support
  • The responsibilities of financial supporters 
  • Real stories of people who have become more financially independent 
  • How to find services that provide other resources to develop money skill

These short video resources offer those living with intellectual disability and their supporters a way to help learn about rights and the responsibilities involved in supported decision-making processes. These resources start the conversation.

The Supporting Financial Decisions Video Stories

Jessie’s Story - Jessie’s story portrays a situation where Jessie has her mum as her informal financial supporter, and together, they grow her financial capability.

Li’s Story - In Li’s story, he had the unfortunate experience of being taken advantage of by others financially. A Tribunal then appoints a financial decision maker for Li and we follow his journey of increased financial capability as he develops his money skills.

Claire’s and Michael’s Story - This video offers real world examples of people living with financial independence despite their intellectual disability. It shows the journey of Claire, Michael, and their supporters on their financial capability journeys.

Image taken from Supporting financial decisions video featuring Michael and Claire

How to use these resources

The Supporting Financial Decisions video resources can be used to:

  • Show a peer group to educate them about people living with intellectual disability
  • Educate parents or supporters of people who live with intellectual disability
  • Train staff to raise awareness of the need for improving the financial capability of all people and inspiring staff as to what is possible
  • Create public awareness by screening the videos in organisation or clinic waiting rooms

Help Spread the Word

Ready-made marketing materials are available for use in organisations’ newsletters, mailouts, emails or on social media.

The Supporting Financial Decisions flyer has been designed to allow organisations to also add their own contact details in the white blank box. This can assist people to find a local ‘next step’ for their own journeys.

Supporting financial decisions flyer

For more information about these videos and the Supporting Financial Decisions project

Go to:


Catherine Aitken

Catherine Aitken

ADA Australia

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