Person-Centered Planning

Have you ever been frustrated with disability services planning for yourself, a friend or a loved one? Did the process seem more focused on the goals and needs of the planners than the person with the disability? Person-centered planning, or PCP, was developed to change that by giving people with disabilities and their families more control over services and the direction of their lives.

What is person-centered planning?

Person-centered planning is a way to help people with disabilities accomplish their own goals in life. It helps them fit in and contribute to society in a personalized way, rather than passively accepting services based solely on their diagnosis or condition.

The intent of PCP is to match the wants and needs of a person with a disability to existing services, adapt existing services to better suit the person or create new services if required. In many cases, this type of planning allows the person with the disability to find and direct their own services. It also encourages family, friends and others to support them in achieving their goals.

Traditional planning models focus on a person's deficits rather than strengths and on determining what services the person might qualify for, whether those services are wanted or not. With this model, there can be unintended consequences, such as isolation, stigmatizing labels, loss of opportunity and loss of hope.

Person-centered planning brings the individual together with a team of family, friends, neighbors, employers, community members and health care professionals to find out what is important to the person with the disability, now and in the future. This person-centered team finds ways for the person with the disability to develop the skills and abilities needed to work toward achieving his or her goals and having more control in his or her life.

Some basic planning objectives might include helping the person with a disability:

  • Live in a regular community, rather than in an institution
  • Choose his or her own services and housing
  • Develop his or her own skills and interests
  • Be treated with respect
  • Find a valued social role
  • Find meaningful independent relationships

The planning team should meet and be facilitated by a neutral and unbiased participant (someone other than a parent) who leads the group, handles conflict and ensures that all team members have an equal opportunity to participate. The involvement of family and friends is especially important for those who are verbally or cognitively impaired and would be at a disadvantage without an advocate.

Tips for getting the most out of person-centered planning

Person-centered planning is a family and community effort that gives people with disabilities more control over the direction of their lives and the services they receive. Inviting the right participants to the initial planning meeting is key. The facilitator can assist the person with the disability through a mapping process that helps the person determine who to invite to participate in the meeting.

The process of person-centered planning explores several key areas. Although it is not necessary for participants to be fully knowledgeable about all planning aspects, regardless of your role, you may wish to become familiar with some or all of the following:

  • Disability services and rights. Many states, including California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin, are already using person-centered planning in some or all areas of disability services planning. Visit the disability rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice website for a summary of other disability rights and laws.
  • Resource entitlements. Many benefits and entitlements for people with disabilities are available from a variety of agencies. Visit to find out what Social Security benefits, medical services, employment, housing, transportation, respite care and other forms of assistance are available at the federal level. The site also has links to state benefits.
  • Responsibilities. The more you know about how you fit into the planning process, the more you can help meet the goals of the person with the disability.
  • Preparation. Arriving well-prepared at the first meeting will improve your credibility and influence in the planning process. During the meeting, the personal needs, goals and objectives are explored for the person with the disability. Each participant provides his or her own perspectives around a basic framework. An Internet search for "person-centered planning tool kit" should provide several resources to assist with preparing for the meeting. Prepare a written list to share at the meeting as a starting point.

Person-centered planning resources

Advocates — Disability service advocates can assist in securing necessary resources, inform individuals and families of options, help with evaluating plans and services, and help the individual with the disability become an effective self-advocate. State-provided adult services specialists may be available in some states, and various local nonprofit organizations also offer these types of services. You can search for programs and organizations providing advocacy in your state at by entering "advocate" and your state.

Facilitators — Facilitators plan and facilitate the meeting. They encourage brainstorming during the meeting and help identify friends, family or professionals that can help keep the plan on track. Your installation Exceptional Family Member Program and Military OneSource can assist with finding person-centered planning facilitators and resources. Call 800-342-9647 to speak with a consultant, or visit the Military OneSource website. The University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities is another great resource for locating PCP facilitators. To locate a center in your state visit the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website.

Legal assistance — State protection and advocacy systems in each state provide free legal assistance to individuals with disabilities and their families. They advocate for the civil rights of the disabled persons, especially in cases involving discrimination and their right to live as integral parts of their communities. To locate the system in your state, visit the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website.

Financial assistance — Your advocates and person-centered planning professionals should know what financial assistance is available to you, but you will want to do your homework to be certain nothing is left out. Visit the Medicaid website to determine eligibility for services. Other financial assistance, government and private, can be located through general online searches and at

Government entitlements for disability — For lists and links to general government disability entitlements, including Social Security benefits, medical services, employment, housing, transportation, respite care and other resources to consider during the planning process, see A link to state benefits is also provided on the website. provides additional information about benefits that you or your family member may be eligible to receive.

Content source: Thomas A. Gaskin, Ph.D.


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