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Shepherd Center’s Director of Advocacy Named a 2009 Georgia Trend Heathcare Hero

ATLANTA (Oct. 5, 2009) -- Mark Johnson, Shepherd Center’s director of advocacy, was named a 2009 Healthcare Hero by Georgia Trend magazine. Mark was one of four individuals who were selected based on their commitment to a healthier Georgia.

The following is an excerpt from Georgia Trend:

Mark Johnson can cause a little trouble when he thinks he needs to, and he often thinks he needs to. Johnson is director of advocacy at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, a private, nonprofit clinic that helps people with catastrophic injuries “reclaim their lives with dignity, independence and hope,” according to the center’s mission statement.

Johnson is charged with helping the center reach that goal, and he has the platform from which to do it – a wheelchair. After suffering a severe spinal cord injury in 1971, Johnson, now 58, learned he would spend his life using a wheelchair and he found himself on a constant obstacle course.
“Most people still see people with disabilities as living a wholly negative life,” Johnson says. That perception was born in denied access to buildings and public transportation, among other things, he says.

Johnson’s duties at the Shepherd Center include identifying and re-searching disability issues, educating staff and community on those issues, and serving as liaison with national groups dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. He also counsels people with disabilities on how to access programs and services that will assist them.

Johnson has a long history of activism on behalf of people with disabilities, beginning in the 1980s when he joined a movement to improve public transportation access. “I remember those early days of literally chasing the American Public Transit Association, the trade group for transit, and disrupting their conventions,” he says. “And from that to blocking a bus that was inaccessible and saying, ‘If I can’t get on, nobody gets on.’”

In 1986, Johnson led an awareness campaign that resulted in Atlanta’s MARTA system adding wheelchair accessibility to its new buses. He’s currently at work to get more consideration for the disabled in healthcare reform, and is active in Concrete Change, a movement begun in Atlanta to change residential housing by making it more “visitable” for people with disabilities.

“Concrete Change has a goal, if topography allows, that we include one no-step entrance to a house and a ground-floor bathroom with wide doors,” Johnson says. “Some very basic features that would allow you to age in place, allow you to have anybody over to your house and ... allow you to sell to anybody.” 

At the core of Johnson’s activism is the passion to have the disabled carry on a normal life with a job and a home, and to take institutionalization out of the choices they face. “Most of the people with disabilities aren’t employed,” he says. “And what does that translate into? It translates into poverty and all the issues that go with that.” 

For his long dedication to improving the lives of people with disabilities, Johnson has been inducted into the National Spinal Cord Injury Association Hall of Fame.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.