For Johnnie Johnson, there is no such thing as 'I can't'


DENVER — Celebrating people for their differences is something that Johnnie Johnson has brought to the forefront through media.

Johnson is blind, though his vision is clear when it comes to using his radio platform to educate the public about individuals with disabilities.

"It's just interesting how sighted people will put blocks up in front of themselves instead of just saying, 'I can do it!'” said Johnson, the president of Innervision FM. “And that's my philosophy ... I always say, 'Hey, we can do it. Forget about the disability; that's just an obstacle to make it more interesting.'"

Johnson established Innervision FM in 1990. The nonprofit, weekly cable TV and radio show consists of interviews with blind people and people with other disabilities. The program places a strong emphasis on giving the guests a platform so they can share their authentic selves with the public.

Johnson said he wants the able-bodied community to "see us as people." 

The idea for Innervision FM came to Johnson while he was taking public transportation. He recalled hearing children ask their parents questions like “Mom, why does he have a cane?” The parents would often tell their kids to be quiet and to not ask questions.

“Well, why not?” Johnson thought. So, he created Innervision FM to answer questions like the ones those children on the bus had and to share the voices of people living with disabilities. The nonprofit also provides broadcast training series to aspiring radio talent with disabilities in the Denver area.

[Related: How to talk about disability sensitively and avoid ableist tropes]

When he was in his early 20s, Johnson moved from Denver to Pasadena, California, where he met two media professionals who had disabilities. They worked for a local television station. One of them was legally blind and the other used a wheelchair. The two men inspired Johnson.

 "I thought about that, and I said, ‘Man, if they can do that, I can produce a TV show,’" Johnson recalled.

When Johnson returned to Denver, he started working for the local cable channel 56. It was then that he learned to edit film. With the newfound confidence that came with learning a skill, Johnson produced and edited a movie called “Even Me.”

"We did the best we [could]. The sound came out fantastic, and I starred in it, and like I said, we had other disabled people in it, but it was just fantastic," Johnson said. "Because, you know, even if someone told me that a blind person can't… or a vision-impaired person can't make a movie, I wouldn't [have] listened because, like, why not?"

The decline of Johnson's eyesight began when he was just 6 years old. He said that one day he woke up in the hospital with no explanation. The night before, Johnson’s brother had found him struggling to breathe, and so he was taken to the hospital. Johnson suffered from Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare, serious skin disorder that can result in skin loss. According to Johnson, the hospital prescribed him the wrong treatment, which is what ultimately led to his loss of vision.

He said his parents were devastated that his eyesight was declining, but his mother worked hard to teach him that his blindness is now part of his journey.

"My mother says, ‘Don't ever think that you can't do something,’” Johnson said. “She was very influential to make sure I did things."

Johnson said "fully blind" in 1998, but that did not stop him from working. He continued training the staff that worked on “Even Me” and pushed forward. Johnson believed in his colleague's abilities and told them, "There was no such thing as 'Oh Johnnie, I can't.'" In fact, Johnson said he mostly heard complaints from colleagues with no disabilities.

Johnson, who in 2021 received the Impact Award at the Mayor's Awards for Excellence in Arts & Culture, is excited about the future of Innervision FM. He said he hopes to start a newscast to discuss current events from the perspective of a blind person.

When Johnson is not working, he and his wife, Nataliya Johnson, travel the world together.

Johnson has authored a book about his life called “6 Shades of Blindness.” You can learn more about Innervision FM here.

Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at