The story of the Florence County Disabilities & Special Needs Board began in 1981 in a small building that provided day services and limited office space.

Over the next 38 years, the board worked diligently to change the landscape of services and opportunities for people with lifelong disabilities in Florence County.

Today, the board supports more than 1,400 people with intellectual disabilities, autism and head and spinal cord injury throughout Florence County with an array of services and supports. Our clients can range from newborns to adults and all those in-between.

Nearly all of our clients benefit from our case management services. Our case managers work closely with clients and their families and take a person-centered approach to comprehensively assess needs and develop an individual support plan. Once a client has a support plan, the case manager continues to work with the client or family to connect them to services and providers and then monitor those services to ensure quality assistance and client satisfaction.

One of our programs that our younger clients may be connected with is our Early Steps program. The Early Steps program works with newborns to 6-year-old children who might have developmental delays. Through this program, we assist children in reaching their developmental milestones by building on the strengths of the family and child through home visits and individualized family training as well as coordinating available community services.

We also support our clients and their families through our Family Support Services program. As a United Way of Florence County partner agency, we are fortunate to receive allocations from them to help fund this program.

One of our goals as an agency is to try to allow our clients to remain at home with their family, but, depending on the needs of the individual, the cost of medical supplies and equipment might be too much for the family to cover on their own.

If this happens, the Florence County Disabilities & Special Needs Board can use funding, like what we received from United Way, and community resources to provide the necessary items at no cost to the client's family. This program also allows us to help families when unexpected costs may arise, such as needing help with bills, or to help provide an opportunity for a client, such as sending them to a summer camp such as Camp Adaptabilities.

If a client does not have the option to stay with family, we do provide residential services with trained caregivers for clients based on their needs. The residential services not only allow the clients to enjoy the comfort of a home, but we also work with them to help them learn life skills and work on gaining independence while being able to enjoy activities and create friendships with the other clients who live with them.

Beyond just supporting our clients, we also try to provide them with opportunities. Our Employment & Day services promote employment opportunities and training to more than 300 people daily. The training helps the clients develop work and life skills through experience and exposure throughout our community. Some of the clients are even able to go on to obtain employment and earn wages. Most of all, it represents a meaningful and productive day.

Through this work, we are trying to positively change the way the community views people with disabilities and the way people with disabilities view themselves. Our hope is for a world where people are defined first as people and not just defined by their disability. Seeing beyond the disability is what every community should hope to achieve.

Changing attitudes and expectations inside and outside the community would not be possible without the support of United Way of Florence County. We are very thankful for the United Way and its donors who are helping to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities by keeping these families together and providing these opportunities. Our story has become epic, in part, because of the United Way, and we hope you join us in celebrating people with disabilities and their potential in our community.

For more information about the Florence County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, visit

Written by Dawn Johnson, Executive Director of the Florence County Disabilities & Special Needs Board
Originally published in the Thursday, January 24, 2020 edition of the Morning News

This article is part of a series of articles that the Morning News is publishing on the Opinion page each Thursday from now through April 2nd. The articles written by the directors of the 18 partner agencies of the United Way of Florence County. Check out the articles in the Thursday print edition of the Morning News, on, or on our website on the Friday following the article's publication date.