Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
Over 160,000 persons with disabilities work in agriculture and industries related to the field. Those farmers and ranchers form an integral part of the cultivation of essential products derived from America’s heartland. Unfortunately, there is little knowledge about the challenges confronting those with disabilities and the services that are essential for them to help overcome unique obstacles.
AgrAbility was formed in 1991 through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help educate and assist workers with disabilities so that they could continue to be able to work in their chosen field. Currently twenty-four states participate in partnership with disability services organizations and land grant universities.
The disabilities that are particularly addressed include spinal cord injuries, amputations, arthritis, back impairments, brain injuries, visual impairments, hearing impairments, disabling diseases, cerebral palsy, respiratory impairments and mental health. AgrAbility strives to reduce any hindrance that prevents disabled farmworkers from living high quality lives. The disabled are supported in all aspects including the prevention of occupational injuries and aiding veterans who are interested in starting farming careers.
Support is provided through Communities of Interest (COIs) which are groups that discuss topics about disabilities and agriculture. Conference calls occur monthly or bimonthly and include open discussion and information presented by experts. Groups include Arthritis and Agriculture, Assistive Technology, Ergonomics, Mental/Behavioral Health, Peer Support and Vocational Rehabilitation.
AgrAbility also offers free online training. Upcoming and archived webinars are available on their Website. In addition, they provide resource information for designs, techniques and products through the Breaking New Ground Resource Center (BNG). International resources include AgrAbility Australia, Saskatchewan Abilities Council and Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities.
The mission of AgrAbility is to educate, encourage networking and provide services. If you are in need of assistance, consult the National AgriAbility Project (NAP) to find out if your state is participating. If you are interested in starting a project in your state, the USDA and NIFA list requirements for submitting proposals. The contact information is: National AgrAbility Project, 225 S. University St., West Lafayette, IN 47907 or Toll Free: 1-800-825-4264.