Robert Shaw never thought he’d get to experience history first-hand.

“I got interested in history after watching some programs about nuclear power and the first atom bomb,” he says. “I watch programs like Planet Earth and read on the internet about things like sharks, the Titanic, the rail and steel barons in the old west, and other things.”

At 72, Robert is the kind of guy who is easily contented and doesn’t want to bother anyone. Jodi Taylor — Robert’s guardian advocate at ADEC — saw an opportunity to help open his eyes to the choice and possibility in his life. When she was helping him review his finances, she noticed he had some extra savings.

“I asked him if he had ever considered doing something fun or special for himself with some of that extra money,” Jodi says. “At first, he seemed to shrug it off, but then he read about the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Kalamazoo on the internet. As his legal guardians, we at ADEC will be thrilled to support his choice to check out the Air Zoo soon.”

Jodi is one of two guardian advocates at ADEC who care for the interests of about 60 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With her help, Robert is encouraged to focus on what is important to him, like history and airplanes — an interest he shares with his behavior consultant, Paul Wagner.

“I have been Robert’s behavior consultant for about two and a half years now. We both love history and could talk endlessly about it,” says Paul, a former history teacher. “I was asked to work with him on his communication skills, and our conversations about history actually help with that. Robert cares about people and his community and enjoys being a part of it every day. I believe that Jodi has given Robert a blessing in advocating for his safety and well-being.  I don’t know what Robert would have if not for her efforts.”

In some cases which concern individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there may be no one available to support that person through the complexities of life. In other cases, those who are available may be facing their own personal health, legal or circumstantial roadblocks which prevent them from becoming a guardian.

“Being part of an at-risk population also means that some individuals are vulnerable to various legal and systemic problems if they face challenges in their ability to advocate for themselves,” says Tobi Weirich, the director of protective services and guardianship at ADEC.

Children are emancipated from parental legal guardianship when they reach the age of majority, which is 18 in America. Robert’s legal guardians for most of his life prior to receiving services from ADEC have at different times included family or friends of family, however this is only because they applied and were approved for this status.

In many cases, parents of children with disabilities mistakenly assume that their guardianship continues into their child’s adulthood, and they are caught off-guard when they suddenly begin to encounter legal challenges at this age. If a child has many medical issues without a legal guardian to advocate for them, it can have serious implications in assuring the continuity and quality of care that they receive.

“This is why it is especially important that parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities make guardianship arrangements before their child turns 18,” Tobi says.

With the help of ADEC’s guardianship services, people like Robert can live fuller lives. Guardians are there for them in the legal sense, and they are also there to help make individuals aware of the choice and possibility that is available in their lives.

After his guardian asked him a few simple questions, Robert was made aware of the opportunity to experience history in person, rather than living vicariously through the internet or television. Now, he is excited about the choice he made to do something special and relevant to his own interests.

“I’ve never been to Kalamazoo,” says Robert, “but I’m really looking forward to checking out the stealth and reconnaissance planes at the Air Zoo.”