Lamplighter Honors

2011: Don Johnston

2011: Don Johnston

Don Johnston
Founder
Don Johnston, Inc.
2011: Hall of Fame

Read Don Johnston's AEP Blog entries about his career in educational publishing.

  • Part 1: His greatest influence and the advice he would give to those choosing educational publishing
  • Part 2: The greatest challenge he faced and the next big challenge for the educational publishing industry
  • Part 3: The accomplishment he is most proud of

Listen to Don's Hall of Fame Induction and Acceptance.


Don Johnston grew up with a significant learning disability and has experienced firsthand the struggles that children and adults face when dealing with cognitive, physical and learning challenges. To this end, Don believes that all children can learn to read and write with the right tools and support. This passion led him to build his special education company in 1980 which he still owns and operates today with his two sons, Ben and Kevin, and longtime friend and colleague, Ruth Ziolkowski, the President of Don Johnston Inc. Don is well known in the education publishing field as an early developer, pioneer and advocate for assistive technology accommodations and learning intervention tools to serve students, teachers and families.

Today, the company offers over a dozen literacy programs and adaptive devices to break through common learning barriers. Thousands of U.S. school districts use his award-winning programs: Read:OutLoud, an accessible text reader to deliver accessible instruction materials and Co:Writer, a word prediction accommodation writing tool that improves literacy skills such as spelling, vocabulary and grammar. In 1999, Don created the Synections™ professional development division to help educators and administrators effectively integrate technology tools into balanced literacy instruction. His company also hosted the TRLD conference. In 2008, Don wrote his auto-biography Building Wings: How I Made it Through School to inspire students who struggle with learning disabilities.

This year, Don and his wife, Cheryll visited local villages and schools in Kenya and helped to coordinate a microloan program to stimulate economic development and education. The family distributed hundreds of their Start-to-Finish books to schools that severely lack reading materials. The books are offered in paperback and computer book (CD) to support universal design for learning (UDL) instruction through a multi-modal (visual and audio) reading experience. Many titles align to core reading curricula and can be used in general education and Response to Intervention (RtI) classes.

Don Johnston received his Bachelors Degree in Psychology in 1972 from Kent State University and a Masters Degree in Psychology with a specialty in Groups and Organizations from George Williams College in 1973. In the early and mid 70’s he started an alternative school in collaboration with his local school district for students with behavior and learning problems. In the late 70’s he was an organizational consultant for businesses planning change.  He taught part time for 15 years in the Organizational Development Department at George Williams College and Aurora University in Illinois.  Don has also received the Outstanding Leadership Award presented by the Technology and Media Group (TAM) from the Council for Exceptional Children.