AgrAbility Helps Farmers with Disabilities Get Back to Work
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
Farmers with disabilities have a strong ally in a program called AgrAbility. Started in 1991 and originally based out of Purdue University in Indiana, the program helps them farm easier and live with more independence.
In Georgia, the program works as a partnership between UGA’s Cooperative Extension and UGA’s Institute on Human Development and Disability.
“There are different ways we help,” said Glen Rains, an engineer with UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tifton and the director of AgrAbility in Georgia. “One way is by working directly with a farmer to develop business plans, acquire funding or simply assessing what they need.”
Modifying a farmer’s farm equipment is just one example, Rains said, of how the program can help.
“We had a farmer, for instance, who had a stroke and had trouble using the right side of his body,” he said. “All of the tractor’s controls were on his right side, so we moved all of the controls to the other side so he could operate the tractor.”
Exposing farmers to smaller tools, too, such as pliers that can be easily used by someone with arthritis, demonstrates the program’s broad approach to assistance.
Farmers, ranchers, farm workers or family members employed in agriculture production are eligible for AgrAbility services. Those with a physical, cognitive or illness-related disability are eligible.
After a farmer requests help, an AgrAbility team visits his farm, assesses his needs and develops an action plan with him.
The program helped one farmer who raised chicks, but was unable to travel due to his glaucoma. “He needed specific certifications in order to transport the chicks by mail, as well as funding for an incubator. We helped him work with the department of labor’s Vocational Rehabilitation program to accomplish those things. … Sometimes the farmer just needs help getting in touch with the right person,” Rains said.
Vocational rehabilitation is a Georgia Department of Labor program that assists those with disabilities get re-employed. AgrAbility focuses on keeping farmers doing what they want to do: farm.
“Our goal is to keep them employed in agriculture, if that’s what they want to do,” Rains said.
AgrAbility trains those who might work with farmers with disabilities, such as occupational or physical therapists, to orientate the therapists to the unique situations that are found on a working farm.
“We actually have the therapists go out on a tractor. They see how far they have to step up, what the controls are like,” he said. “Basically, it provides them a reference for what kind of limitations they are working with.”
Within the next year, an AgrAbility Farm will be up and running on the UGA campus in Tifton. The farm will be a place for training and to see assistive technologies in action.
“The farm itself is divided up into several sections,” he said. “One, for example, is called ‘Mobility Lane.’ The idea is to have an array of ground surfaces, like asphalt, gravel or sand, divided into lanes so we can test how well all-terrain wheelchairs will work in that environment.”
There’s also plans for a livestock area, which would feature lifts to help get people on to horses, along with technology to reduce the burden of feeding, maintaining or working with animals.
Rains worked in car safety before coming to UGA. After his arrival, he became the state’s top specialist in farm safety. He designed the AgrAbility program around a comprehensive approach: prevention of accidents, proper response if they occur and not allowing injuries or illness to keep farmers from enjoying their livelihoods.
“Don’t let it happen, but if it does happen this is what you have to do as a first responder, then after you may have had an injury how do we get you back farming,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the programs, which is offered in 30 states. As part of its 20th anniversary, AgrAbility is promoting its website (www.agrability.com), where viewers can find resources and information on hundreds of commercial and homemade technology that helps farmers, ranchers, gardeners and other agricultural workers with disabilities.
To find out more about the program in Georgia, call (877) 524-6264, or go to ww.agrabilityinga.com.