Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

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AgrAbility Programs Help Disabled Agricultural Workers Remain in their Fields

Article provided by Laurel Richards (lrichards@bcm.tmc.edu)

According to the Breaking New Ground (BNG) Resource Center, a primary source for information and resources on rehabilitation technology for disabled persons working in agriculture, over three million Americans earn their livings in agriculture, and for most of them, the work is not just their livelihood, it is their way of life; a productive and satisfying way of life of which they are very proud.

The BNG Resource Center, located at Purdue University's Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering (in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA), estimates that more than 500,000 persons working in agriculture have physical disabilities that interfere with their ability to perform essential tasks on the farm or ranch.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that more than 200,000 farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers experience lost-work-time injuries and occupational illnesses every year, approximately five percent of which have serious and permanent results. Off-the-farm injuries; health conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis, or cancer; and aging disable tens of thousands more.

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.

BNG staff believe that the majority of people with disabilities who work or live in agricultural settings want to continue to do so despite their disabilities. All too often, however, 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 they face.

Since 1991, staff members from 25 state or regional AgrAbility Projects have been directly or indirectly providing education, practical guidance, and technical assistance that has helped agricultural workers pursue their chosen occupations and rural lifestyles despite their disabilities. The AgrAbility Project assists people involved in production agriculture who work both on small and large operations. Those eligible for AgrAbility services may have any type of disability, physical, cognitive, or illness-related. The AgrAbility Project offers education and assistance to help identify ways to accommodate disabilities, eliminate barriers, and create a favorable climate among rural service providers for people with disabilities. AgrAbility contributes to preventing people from being forced out of agriculture because of their disabilities and provides them with ideas for safe, affordable modifications and solutions to help them maintain their businesses and life_styles.

Direct assistance provided by AgrAbility staff includes assessing agricultural worksites and suggesting ways to modify equipment, assessing agricultural tasks and providing guidance on how to restructure them, mobilizing and coordinating community resources and services, facilitating rural independent living, initiating and coordinating peer support groups, identifying ways to prevent secondary injury and disability, and advocating for individuals and families served by the project.

Indirect assistance provided by AgrAbility staff includes providing information and education to rural professionals who provide services to rural residents with disabilities and promoting increased awareness among the rural and general public that people with disabilities can and do work in agriculture.

For more information on the AgrAbility program, see its Web site at http://abe.www.ecn.purdue.edu/ABE/Extension/BNG/agrabilityproject.html.

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