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Consent and Capacity Issues for People with Complex Communication Needs

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People with complex communication needs (CCN), have the right to make decisions that are significant in their lives. Some of these decisions are legal such as how to spend their money, where they want to live, with whom they wan to live, whether they want to get married, how they want to manage their property, vote or make a will. Some decisions relate to health law such as whether or not the person wants a specific health treatment plan or medical intervention.

People with CCN can be at risk of being considered “not capable” of decision-making by healthcare and legal professionals because of issues that relate to communication, literacy, lack of experience making decisions, reduced life experiences and/ or unsubstantiated assumptions by professionals who may undermine their ability to make decisions. In addition, capacity assessors may have little or no training in communication disabilities and may not engage a support person to assist with communication during capacity assessments. Communication barriers can have serious consequences that impact on a person’s right to exercise autonomy over major life decisions in healthcare, financial, and living arrangements. This presentation will share findings from a project that explored the experiences of people with CCN within legal decision-making contexts. It will provide an overview of consent and capacity legislation; significant legal principles for people with CCN; barriers and vulnerabilities for people with CCN in legal decision-making contexts and the communication supports people may need in these situations.


Barbara Collier    
Communication Disabilities Access Canada

Megan Henze    
Communication Disabilities Access Canada


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