20 years of AgrAbility offer hope, disability assistance

September 8, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The message that the National AgrAbility Project wants to get out to farmers, ranchers and others in agriculture who have suffered a disabling injury or illness is one of hope.

But also of help.

AgrAbility is delivering that message as it celebrates 20 years of helping people in agriculture overcome their disabilities so they can continue to work and remain productive.

It is sometimes difficult for farmers and ranchers to admit they have conditions for which they need help, said Paul Jones, manager of the National AgrAbility Project, based at Purdue University and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Before you get injured, you have no need for these services," Jones said. "But once you are, you sometimes feel you have nowhere to turn. We want people to know that when they are injured, there is hope."

A daylong forum AgrAbility is conducting in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14 will include a panel discussion with farmers and ranchers who have benefited from AgrAbility's services. Among them are John Enns, a farmer, rancher and state representative from Waukomis, Okla., and Peggy Milliman, a Christmas tree producer from Mechanicsville, Md., both of whom suffered spinal injuries and needed help. They are featured on a video produced by AgrAbility that is available at http://www.youtube.com/user/NationalAgrAbility

As part of the Disability in Agriculture and Rural Life Forum at Sheraton Four Points Hotel, Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy, will speak on the status of people with disabilities in rural areas.

A report on 20 years of AgrAbility (available at www.agrability.org) will be presented by Jones and Bill Field, a Purdue Extension farm safety specialist who supervises Extension's Breaking New Ground Resource Center. The center has provided assistance to farmers with physical disabilities since 1979 and was a model for the AgrAbility program.

AgrAbility was first authorized in the 1990 farm bill and has been reauthorized in every farm bill since then. It has an annual budget of $4.2 million.

About 11,000 people have received personal, direct services from AgrAbility since it began operations in 1991. It has helped thousands more with less intensive assistance, such as telephone consultations and referrals.

AgrAbility has operations in 25 states, with each state project collaborating with land-grant university Cooperative Extension Services and partnering with nonprofit groups such as Goodwill Industries, Easter Seals affiliates and Arthritis Foundation chapters.

As part of its 20th anniversary activities, AgrAbility is promoting its online "toolbox" containing information on approximately 750 commercial and homemade technology products for farmers, ranchers, other agricultural workers and gardeners with disabilities. Products include chair and platform lifts for those who cannot climb into operator's stations in tractors and other equipment, modified hand controls for utility vehicles, heavy-duty outdoor wheelchairs and scooters, and devices enabling people with back injuries or arthritis to pick up piles of leaves and other lawn debris without having to repeatedly bend down.

The toolbox is available at www.agrability.org/toolbox.

AgrAbility offers many training opportunities, including the annual National Training Workshop that explores a range of topics related to disability in agriculture and includes visits to client farms. More than 1,500 professionals and clients have attended the event since 1991. This year's national workshop will be Nov. 7-10 in Indianapolis and will include activities to observe AgrAbility's 20th anniversary.

Many AgrAbility projects involve programs that connect new clients with others who have adapted their disabilities to their lives and occupations. Mentors offer emotional support and advice on modifying tasks and equipment.

It often is especially difficult for farmers, who are self-reliant and used to hard work, to think that they could be seriously injured and need assistance, said Kylie Hendress, AgrAbility engagement coordinator. She became interested in AgrAbility in 2006 after her father suffered a spinal injury in an accident in which a 2,000-pound bale of hay fell on him. AgrAbility helped to obtain funding through the state’s vocational rehabilitation program to refit his two-story farm house, barn and equipment to meet his physical needs. He continues to farm corn and soybeans and raise show pigs.

"All a farmer wants to do is farm," Hendress said. "When the need arises, AgrAbility is there to help."

Writer: Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, robins89@purdue.edu 

Sources: Paul Jones, 765-494-1221, jonesp@purdue.edu  

                  Kylie Hendress, 765-494-6679, khendres@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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