Farmers With Disabilities Get Help From Agrability (Farmability)

Millions of Americans earn their living in agricultural production and related occupations. They find agricultural work / productive and satisfying. For most, it's not just a livelihood--it's a way of life.

Agricultural production is hazardous. The National Safety Council estimates that more than 100,000 farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers experience injuries and occupational illnesses every year. A sizable percentage of these agriculture-related injuries are serious and permanent. As many as 500,000 persons working in agriculture have physical disabilities that interfere with their ability to perform essential tasks on the farm or ranch.

Tens of thousands of agricultural workers also become disabled in off-the-farm accidents or through illnesses or health conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis, or cancer. Others experience limitations as they grow older, including decreased vision and hearing or loss of strength. These disabilities often prevent rural residents from continuing in agricultural production or related work.

Additionally, thousands of children born into agricultural families have disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and epilepsy. Physical and attitudinal barriers often prevent these children from participating fully in farm and ranch operations and from engaging in social and recreational activities enjoyed by other rural youth.

The majority of people with disabilities who work or live in agricultural settings want to continue an agricultural way of life. All too often, they are frustrated in their attempts. Rural isolation, limited personal resources, gaps in rural service delivery systems, and inadequate access to agriculture-oriented assistance are among the obstacles these individuals face.

Fortunately, the AgrAbility Project offers solutions. AgrAbility is a national project operating in New York and 13 other states. It involves Cooperative Extension and private, non-profit disability service organizations. Education and assistance are available to accommodate disabilities, eliminate barriers, and create a favorable climate among rural service providers for people with disabilities.

The AgrAbility Project assists agricultural and agribusiness workers who have physical and mental disabilities, which may include one or more of the following: amputation, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, back pain, post-polio syndrome, cancer, respiratory problems, cardiac problems, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, stroke, deafness and hearing impairments, traumatic brain injury, mental retardation, and blindness or vision impairments.

AgrAbility project staff help by:

  • assessing agricultural work sites and suggesting modifications;
  • suggesting how equipment may be adapted;
  • assessing agricultural tasks and suggesting how they may be restructured;
  • mobilizing and coordinating community resources and services;
  • facilitating rural independent living;
  • coordinating peer counseling and support groups;
  • stressing agricultural safety and prevention of secondary disability; and
  • becoming an advocate for individuals and families served by the project.

AgrAbility projects also offer education and training for rural professionals regarding the impact of disability on agricultural production and rural living. In addition, AgrAbility promotes increased awareness among the rural public that people with disabilities can and do work in agriculture.

In New York State the project is called FarmAbility. For assistance, farmers should call Doreen Greenstein at 607-255-1143. The mailing address is FarmAbility, 330 Riley-Robb Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.

Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Provider: Ag Information Services -- News & Publications, Penn State
August 2, 1993.

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