Three years ago, Morgan Whitlatch hailed an octogenarian as a pioneer for reclaiming her right to make her own decisions and taking on the established system of guardianship. The 87-year-old woman was the first senior citizen in the District of Columbia to successfully petition the court to end a guardianship in favor of supported decision-making (SDM), a model that is gaining acceptance in the disability community, but is not as well recognized for older adults.
“This is groundbreaking,” proclaimed Whitlatch, the longtime legal director and attorney at Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities (QT), to a Washington Post reporter in 2018. “I hope this is going to transfer over to how we treat older adults.”
Whitlatch knows about being a pioneer and initiating ground-breaking events. In 2013, five years before she supervised the senior citizen’s SDM case, she co-counseled a landmark case that protected the rights of an adult with Down syndrome to work, live in the community, and make her own choices – a case that catapulted SDM into the national lexicon.
And now Whitlatch is bringing that pioneering spirit to the Center for Public Representation, a national legal advocacy organization for people with disabilities based in Northampton, Massachusetts.
On Monday, October 18th, Whitlatch will assume her new role as director of CPR’s renowned Supported Decision-Making Initiative. She will operate out of CPR’s Washington, DC, office on K Street, NW. She is succeeding Michael Kendrick, who has overseen CPR’s myriad SDM pilots and monitored the SDM virtual resource library since 2016.
“We are thrilled that Morgan will be joining CPR and leading our Supported Decision-Making work,” said Cathy Costanzo, CPR’s executive director. “SDM is one of our highest priorities as it offers key ways to promote the human dignity of people with disabilities. Morgan is the perfect choice to lead and to expand our SDM work.”
Whitlatch, who worked as an attorney at QT for more than 12 years, sees the CPR role as a natural fit. She points out that QT and CPR have aligned missions, dedicated to enforcing the rights of people with disabilities and other marginalized populations to live, work and engage in the community. As QT’s legal director, Whitlatch planned and implemented litigation, legal advocacy and systemic initiatives addressing issues such as legal capacity, decision-making, community integration, discrimination, and health care – the same issues on CPR’s agenda.
While in DC, Whitlatch also led coalitions that secured the first in the nation educational SDM policy in DC Public Schools and made the District the fourth jurisdiction in the nation to recognize SDM Agreements in its state laws. In addition, she served as the Lead Project Director of the National Resource Center for SDM, an advocacy and education center that is dedicated to advancing less restrictive, community inclusive alternatives to guardianship and has been housed at QT since 2014.
Whitlatch, a graduate of Georgetown Law School and Wesleyan University, has published and contributed to numerous articles and national reports and presented hundreds of presentations and webinars, mainly on SDM within the context of life events addressing health care, education, transition-age youth, and older adults.
“I look forward to joining CPR’s talented team to continue to develop and implement innovative strategies for promoting the decision-making rights and human dignity of people with disabilities,” says Whitlatch. “I welcome the opportunity to expand this work further on the state, national, and international levels.”