When Mary Anne Ehlert opened her planning practice in 1989, she wound up building a practice around an area she knew a little too well: special-needs patients.

Her sister, Marcia, was born with cerebral palsy. Ehlert gleaned her own training in special-needs issues from lawyers and a helpful employee at the local Social Security office. Then one of Ehlert's sons, who is mentally ill, became blind - and both of her parents developed disabilities later in life.

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