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ONI's Disability Program has new Program Coordinator

 Photo of Joanne Johnson, new program coordinator

Joanne Johnson
Disability Program Coordinator

City of Portland’s Disability Program hires
Joanne Johnson as new Program Coordinator

The Office of Neighborhood Involvement has hired Joanne Johnson as the program coordinator for the City’s Disability Program. She was among over 75 candidates seeking to fill the opening which had been vacant since mid-February. Johnson has personal and professional experience in the disability community as a person with a disability with over 10 years’ experience in disability advocacy and justice work. 

While becoming familiar with the city government system and community, Johnson will be reviewing existing efforts in community engagement like program materials, the website and social media pages. Her focus is to create more opportunities which will allow even more people to be connected to their communities. She will also pursue existing projects like the Additional Needs registry and Disability Leadership Academy. 

A native of Michigan, she earned her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University. Johnson credits a 2006 internship with the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition for further developing her understanding of disability as an identity while she worked with local colleges and universities to create access for students with disabilities. 

Moving to Philadelphia in 2008, Johnson worked with Liberty Resources, a center for independent living. The Center had all staff engaged in advocacy and participating en mass at community actions. This experience provided a deep understanding of disability culture’s scope and range. Successes were due to engagement that brought a coming together of the larger community by the center’s entire staff. 

She studied and was awarded her master’s degree in social work at Western Michigan University. Johnson volunteered with Disability Network Southwest Michigan’s Transportation Advocacy Group and was hired as an Information and Referral Specialist during graduate school. A Portland connection for her came from a scholarship she received from Incight. 

In 2010, she became a Community Education & Systems Advocate for Disability Network Southwest Michigan. There, she recruited and supported people to engage in self-advocacy and systems change as well as providing community presentations on ableism, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), creating accessible communities, and other disability issues. 

A major focus of her engagement and advocacy work in Michigan was public transportation advocacy, including advocacy for more effective, reliable transit and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She helped riders with disabilities to be advocates by providing training on how the system functions, decision making in the system, impacting the decision-making, connecting with the decision makers and advocating with them. By advocating alongside disabled riders, and collaborating with the local planning commission and transit authority, she helped the urban transit system to implement an ADA compliant para-transit service. 

Another project involved a collaboration with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office and the state’s Communications Department to develop and provide an audio version of the state driver’s manual. 

The Michigan Library for the Blind assisted in delivering “What Every Driver Must Know” in an audio format. The project evolved from a consumer complaint for accommodation. 

Johnson is settling into the work quickly and sees her role as building leadership and capacity in the disability communities. “I recognize that there is a broad range of disabilities and am committed to building a cross disability program,” she says. She emphasizes that there are many kinds of disabilities communities and gives examples including intellectual, mental health, mobility, cognitive, learning, visual and hearing disabilities, and many more. 

She adds that she “wants the program to recognize that our experiences of the world and individual identities are intersectional. That disability issues are impacted by factors like race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, migration status and others.” Her focus will be on providing opportunities for leadership development, support community engagement and community building, while still being available for disability-related information and referral.

Joanne may be reached at ONI by emailing joanne.johnson@portlandoregon.gov. The program website is available through this link and features information about its goals, resources, news and other up-to-date information for Portland’s vibrant disability communities.