Lincoln Works to See Supportive Decision-Making an Option to Guardianship
"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Michael Lincoln is a licensed security guard in the state of Florida, participates in Special Olympics, and is a member of the FL SAND grassroots group, Stand Up for Independence (SUFI) in Martin and St. Lucie counties-- all the result of choices he made for himself.
In 2016 with the help of Disability Rights Florida, Lincoln petitioned the court and became the first person with a disability in the state of Florida to be granted the right to make decisions about his life with the help of others -- a process known as supported decision-making -- instead of having a legal guardian make those decisions.
Today, Michael continues to work with Disability Rights Florida on a supported decision-making coalition to protect and restore the civil rights of people with disabilities by avoiding and ending unnecessary guardianships. A coalition goal is to advance legislation that that would require the consideration of supported decision making as an option to the loss of rights via guardianship.
In this edition of "About Us," Michael talks about his experience of having his rights restored by the state and shares his opinion regarding the importance of changing the way courts view people with disabilities.
Question: How important is being a person
with a disability to your identity?
Michael: It’s very important because to me a person with a disability can do anything, as long as they put their mind to it. Most of my friends and family know I am a licensed security guard for the state of Florida and a lot of that came from my supports. Without the support of my friends and family and without me putting my mind to what I wanted to accomplish, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Question: When did you begin to identify as a self-advocate?
Michael: I started identifying as a self-advocate back in 2016 when I had my rights restored. Back in 2014 someone petitioned the court to take away my rights. That included the right to get married, the right to get my driver’s license, the right to vote, the right to sue and to be sued. Every right a human being has was taken away. Basically, to the extent where I didn’t exist anymore. When my rights were taken away, I went until 2016 being considered fully incompetent by the court. I could not choose where I wanted to live, couldn’t choose where I wanted to hang out or where I wanted to hang out with my friends, fully incompetent. In 2016, I petitioned the court with the help of Disability Rights Florida to get my rights restored. I ended up being the first person in the state of Florida that has supported decision-making.
Question: What is a memorable experience you’ve had recently?
Michael: I would say when I was at my birthday party recently. We had the local police and fire department there, SUFI members, and tons of others. When I was not looking, a couple of my friends put a whole bunch of icing all over me.
Question: What disability-related issue is most significant to you?
Michael: The most important issue to me is guardianship. I understand some people with guardianship need some extra help. But the way I also look at it is if you’re a person with a disability and you can make your own decisions, you should have the right to make those decisions without someone petitioning the courts to have your rights fully taken away.
Second, I feel like most of the court systems aren’t looking at least-restrictive options. I’m looking at educating them on least-restrictive options like supported decision-making because I don’t want people to go down the same road I went down. I want them to be able to live their lives. I want them to be able to get married, to have a family, to have kids.
Yes, they have a disability but they’re a human being just like everyone else. I am part of Stand Up for Independence, and we have shirts I wear all the time that say "Label Jars, Not People" because when they put us under guardianship, they’re basically labeling us as incompetent.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior, comment, or reaction, that you found particularly obnoxious?
Michael: Honestly, I have never had something like that before. There’s never been a moment in my life that something like that was directed toward me.
Question: What about a positive experience?
Michael: Me and a couple of friends went to deliver some food to the local law enforcement officers. Most of the cops know me because I participate in Special Olympics and most of them do volunteering there. They complimented me and said I have a really kind heart and they appreciated me bringing them the food.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Why?
Michael: I would say Krystal because she is one of my close friends and I know she looks up to me as a role model. She is a kindhearted person, just like me. I always like making a positive difference in someone’s life, regardless and here’s the beauty of it: it doesn’t have to be just her. I don’t think one person is enough. I want to talk to as many people as I can about life challenges or life struggles that they’re going through in general.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to be different in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Michael: How the court system looks at people with disabilities. That’s where I feel there are some mistakes that impact people’s lives in a very bad way. The court system judges them by the way they act without taking time to really understand their personalities and abilities. That’s where I feel most of the guardianships come into play.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Michael: I would say “A Night to Shine,” by Rascal Flatts. It inspires me because as people with disabilities, we deserve to shine. I know it’s also a song dedicated to the night to shine from the Tim Tebow Foundation. I really think people with disabilities should have the chance to shine and be successful in whatever we decide to do.
For more information on the supported decision-making coalition, contact Disability Rights Florida.
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Michael for taking the time to participate in the interview. Let us know what you think about "About Us" on Facebook! If you know an accomplished self-advocate in Florida you think we should showcase in "About Us," contact us here or via Facebook.