NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA – In a victory for the rights of adults with disabilities, a judge has declared that a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome can live the life she wants, rejecting a guardianship request from her parents that would have let them keep her in a group home against her will.
The ruling thrilled Jenny Hatch and her supporters, who included some of America’s most prominent disability advocates.
“Oh, my God,” Hatch said over and over again Friday, shedding tears. “I’m so happy to go home today. I deserve it. It’s over.”
For more than a year, Hatch has been under a temporary guardianship and living in a series of group homes, removed from the life she knew. Hatch wanted to continue working at a thrift store and living with friends Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, who employed her and took her into their home last year when she needed a place to recover after a bicycle accident.
Legally, Hatch’s case came down to two questions. Was she an incapacitated adult in need of a guardian? If so, who would best serve in that role — her mother and stepfather, or Morris and Talbert?
But for national experts on the rights of people with disabilities, the case was about an individual’s right to choose how to live.
Judge David Pugh said that he believed Hatch, who has an IQ of about 50, needs a guardian to help her make decisions but that he had also taken her preferences into account. He designated Morris and Talbert her temporary guardians for a year, with the goal of helping her achieve more independence.