The Liberating Possibilities of Technology

When Dan Johnson pulls into his parking stall behind the Wilson Street State Office Building in Madison, his vehicle does not look particularly remarkable. It’s only when the door on the side of the van slides open—and a metal platform-lift extends out with Dan seated in his power wheelchair—that you realize something is a bit different.

For Mr. Johnson, the Coordinator for Resource for Persons with Physical Disabilities— and a person with quadriplegia, the van has become an essential part of his life. "It takes me all over town every day," he says. "I love the independence it gives me."

Using small movements of his head and one hand, he drives himself to work. He exits, closes and locks his van by pushing a few buttons on a control panel he attaches to his shirt or seat belt. He enters the office building through an automatic door, rides up an elevator, and wheels to his desk to boot his computer and begin work.

"Assistive technology gives me so much freedom," Dan remarks. "Some of that technology is complex, like the voice-operated software that lets me use a computer on my own. Technology also can be things as simple as the little rubber sleeve that fits around my pen so I can grip it to write."

Mr. Johnson's wheelchair is the most noticeable equipment he uses. "Wheelchairs are tools that enable people with physical disabilities to move about. They’re not a liability to which we are bound or confined. For instance, some people transfer out of their chair to use a toilet or ride in a car, and all of us transfer into bed at night—perhaps with assistance."

Wisconsin’s barrier-free design code and the Americans with Disabilities Act now require many facilities to be accessible. In Dan’s estimation, "These regulations have opened doors for me—literally."


Looking for solutions using adaptive technology? The WisTech Program can provide you with information about 17,000 disability-related products, as well as funding resources and support groups.

WisTech’s assistive technology loan centers let you try equipment at home, at school or in the work place to see if it meets your needs. These services can be accessed through Wisconsin’s eight independent living centers.


Don't be surprised if you see Dan Johnson at a Packer game or in the hallway of his children’s school.

"Having a disability doesn’t mean I’m going to settle for being a couch potato," he quips. "People sometimes think that makes me especially courageous, but no—I didn’t automatically get an extra measure of courage when I injured my spinal cord. I’m just enjoying being a spouse, a parent and a citizen like other folks—and assistive technology helps me do that independently."

Last Revised: June 14, 2016