Keeping disabled farmers on the job
Services, ‘assistive technology’ offered at no cost
BY MIKE SEFFRIN
Despite modern advances in agriculture, farming can still be a physically demanding occupation. But for farmers with disabilities or health problems, a free program can help.
Ohio AgrAbility, which operates through Ohio State University, is part of a national program that promotes independence for people in agriculture who want to continue farming after experiencing a disabling condition. The program’s goal is to provide education, resources and technical assistance. OSU has partnered with Easter Seals to offer the program in Ohio.
Kent McGuire, education program coordinator with Ohio AgrAbility, said the program is in its fourth year at OSU and has been in existence nationwide about 20 years.
Services are offered at no cost to farmers, McGuire said. The program is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
In 2012 the state program had about 35 clients “we work with on regular basis providing site assessments,” McGuire said. In addition, program personnel worked with about 180 people who contacted Ohio AgrAbility about solving specific problems. For many clients, multiple assessments are conducted because of the wide variety of situations involved. “There are environmental changes,” McGuire said. For example, he said, how a farmer would perform a task “when it’s sunny and 70” is different than how he would do the same job in January.
The program offers “assistive technology” to help a person complete a job that otherwise might be difficult. Examples of this include:
• Modified steps or handles.
• Hand controls.
• Lever extensions.
• Outdoor mobility aids.
• Motorized lifts.
The program also promotes “universal design”— solutions that produce buildings, products and environments that make tasks easier for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Examples of this include:
• Smooth ground surfaces of entryways — without stairs.
• Large handles on buckets, utensils and tools.
• Lever handles for doors rather than knobs that twist.
• Light switches with large, flat panels rather than toggle switches.
• Accessible cabinets, storage spaces and work stations.
Farmers who have used the program appreciate it, McGuire said.
“The response has been very positive because we’re assisting them with increasing their productivity and reducing barriers and limitations they face because of a disability,” he said. “In the overall scheme of things, we’re helping them to be productive in doing something they love, which is farming.”
Disabilities that AgrAbility deals with may be because of injury (farm and non-farm), health issues or age issues.
“We have an individual who is in a wheelchair and has been for quite some time. He still actively farms,” McGuire said. But he is starting to develop arthritis in his upper body.
The program is flexible in the kinds of services it provides, McGuire said, which helps if a client is reluctant to accept assistance.
“It all comes down to each individual. … To overcome that (reluctance), we provide them with resources they can use immediately,” he said. “The other key is we will do as little or as much as the individual wants. We really kind of keep it open to meet the needs and comfort level of the individual.”
To make the public aware of the program, program representatives attend ag-related events such as the Farm Science Review and ag– safety days, McGuire said. They also work with other community organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation and Centers for Independent Living.
“It really helps to surround the individual with all the resources available to them,” he said.
McGuire grew up on a farm and still lives in a rural community in Wyandot County.
“I’ve seen over the years the impact an injury or illness can have on a family farm in a small, rural community,” he said.
More information about the Ohio AgrAbility program is available on the website, agrability.osu.edu. McGuire may be contacted by phone at (614) 292‑0588 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Mike Seffrin writes for the Sidney Daily News.)