Viviana Bonilla López

  • Hosted by Disability Rights Florida
  • Sponsored by The Florida Bar Foundation
  • Service location Miami, Florida
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Disability Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Viviana will protect and restore the civil rights of people with disabilities in Miami-Dade County by expanding Supported Decision-Making as an alternative to guardianship.

Guardianship is a legal tool that strips a person of part or all of their civil rights—to contract, vote, marry, work, consent to treatment, sue and defend lawsuits, choose living arrangements, and manage money or property—and lets another exercise them. Since at least fiscal year 2000-2001, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida, serving Miami¬-Dade County, has had the most guardianship cases filed of all the judicial circuits in Florida. This project will be the first to offer Supported Decision-Making (SDM) as an alternative. SDM is a person-centered alternative to guardianship that allows people with disabilities to make their own decisions with the support of a team of trusted people.

Viviana has loved ones with mental health diagnoses and relates to the experiences of the families she works with. Her years of experience in the mental health and disability field as a student organizer, intern, volunteer, research assistant, journalist, advocate, and an advisor to advocacy organizations make her the right person for this project.

Fellowship Plans

Viviana’s project will stop its devastating overutilization by expanding the use of SDM. Her project will be the first targeted, multipronged, circuit-based effort to ingrain SDM in Florida. She hopes this pilot program will be replicated state and nationwide. The project will combine: strategic direct representation, including defending people with disabilities against guardianship petitions, terminating existing guardianships, and drafting affirmative SDM agreements that divert people from the guardianship system altogether; educating key stakeholders including judges, families, educators, and legislators; and building an SDM coalition led by people with disabilities and their loved ones.


Protecting the Right to Decide: Supported Decision-Making in Florida

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Host: Georgia Legal Services Program

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Sponsor: Pfizer Inc.

Amber Harding

Host: Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

Sponsor: Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Gabriela Sevilla

Host: Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc.

Sponsor: Pfizer Inc.

Current Fellow