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A Helping Hand for Agricultural Producers

By Charles Rohla, Ph.D.
Pecan and Specialty Agriculture Systems Manager

Posted Jun. 2, 2011

The agricultural lifestyle can be physically demanding and time consuming. These demands can be even more challenging when the agricultural producer has a physical disability. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2004), individuals employed in agriculture rank second among laborers with disabilities resulting from work-related injuries. It has been estimated that between 15 to 30 percent of farm operators and farm workers have physical disabilities, with many resulting from work on the farm. Each year, more than 200,000 individuals involved in agriculture suffer injuries that limit their ability to perform essential tasks (USDA).

To help these people stay engaged in agriculture, the AgrAbility Project was created in 1991 as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. Currently, 24 states have AgrAbility Projects to assist agricultural producers with disabilities. These projects are overseen by collaborative partnerships between land grant universities and nonprofit disability services organizations and work towards three objectives:

Provide education to build service capacity with health, farm and government service providers on accommodating disabilities and preventing secondary injuries.

Expand program capacity through networking activities of mutually sharing information and resources with non-AgrAbility individuals and organizations.

Provide disabled farmers with consultation services and technical assistance to increase the likelihood the farmer can continue to farm successfully. This may involve modifying or adapting the agricultural operation, buildings, equipment or tools.

AgrAbility assists farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers as well as family members impacted by disability. On-farm assessments are conducted to help determine assistive technologies that would enable individuals to meet their agricultural goals. These technologies may include mechanical devices or modifications that can help persons with disabilities to work and live more independently. AgrAbility offers these services at no cost to participants.

AgrAbility can also assist clients with locating funding resources to meet their specific needs. Some of these funds are in the form of grants while others are low interest loans. AgrAbility does not provide direct funding or equipment. However, AgrAbility Projects often work with state vocational rehabilitation authorities and other sources to help clients obtain needed assistive technology and modifications.

Oklahoma AgrAbility also participates in the Oklahoma Equipment Exchange (OEE). The OEE is a statewide initiative connecting Oklahomans with disabilities to needed assistive technology through "want ad" Internet postings. Items for sale or donation may be found at oec.okstate.edu or call 888-885-5588 (voice/tty) for further assistance.

AgrAbility serves those agricultural workers who are limited by any type of physical, cognitive or illness-related disability, including:

  • amputations
  • arthritis
  • back impairment
  • deafness or hearing impairments
  • developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or autism
  • disabling diseases, such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes
  • mental or behavioral health disorders
  • respiratory conditions
  • spinal cord injuries
  • stroke
  • traumatic brain injury
  • blindness or reduced vision
  • multiple sclerosis
  • muscular dystrophy
  • post-polio syndrome

For more information, contact Oklahoma AgrAbility at 888-885-5588, ok.gov/ag4life or Texas AgrAbility 979-845-3727, txagrability.tamu.edu.