The birth of Doug Justice’s grandson Jonathan April 20, 2014 was a time of great joy for his extended family.

But 10 days later, when Jonathan was diagnosed with Down syndrome, it turned into one of concern and heartache.

However, Justice, a senior vice president with Merrill Lynch’s Atlanta office in Buckhead and a certified financial planner, said being the grandfather of a child born with the genetic disorder that causes developmental delays and physical disabilities may have been one of the best things to happen to him.

"I soon realized I was not just dealing with our child having a disability, but the whole world of disability, which covers the entire spectrum, from hearing and sight disabilities to autism," the Sandy Springs resident said. "I realized that as a certified financial planner, a family with a disabled member is not only a challenge for the person with the disability but a challenge for those who are caring for them."

His concern for those with disabilities and their families and caregivers led him to broaden his expertise in financial planning to include families caring for the disabled. As such, Justice added the title of chartered special-needs consultant to his resume.

"When I was doing my research with regard to those with disabilities and their caregivers, I discovered that 20% of the population of the U.S. qualifies as persons with disabilities, which is a huge number," he said. "If you think of that on the broad spectrum, it means that just about everyone … knows someone with a disability, knows the family for someone with a disability or knows someone who is caring for a disabled person."

Justice said this fact began his journey of having a better understanding of families with special-needs members and was the foundation of him becoming that type of consultant.

A chartered special-needs consultant, Justice said, is a designation to equip advisers and others who work with families of disabled individuals to form a plan on what options they have. It also allows him to work closely with attorneys and accountants in giving that family information and direction.

In addition, Justice is also heavily involved with Norcross-based Special Olympics Georgia, where he serves on the honorary board.

"In Georgia, there are 26,841 Special Olympic athletes," he said.

Special Olympics Georgia CEO Georgia Milton-Sheats called Justice a longtime supporter of that organization.

"Doug has been on the honorary board, has organized the volunteer efforts of the Duck Pluck tagging party day and has conducted training with his team at the Special Olympics Youth Forum and Summer Games," she said. "Doug is a true fan of the athletes, and we appreciate his many efforts is supporting us.”

Justice said he is extremely proud of the volunteer efforts of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, which are "extremely strong advocates for the disabled.”

“We encourage our employees to do a lot of volunteer work with regard to special-needs individuals, their families and caregivers,” he said.

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