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AgrAbility helps keep farmers, ranchers with disabilities on the farm


An example of simple assistive technology: A hammer that holds a nail on its head, allowing it to be used with one hand. (Courtesy photo.)

UNL Extension and Easter Seals Nebraska are partners in a program that helps farmers and ranchers with disabling injuries or other health-related conditions become independent enough to carry on and succeed at their profession.

The Nebraska AgrAbility Project, on the web at agrability.unl.edu, has provided education, assistance and advocacy since 1995.

Farming is a risky business. According to the national AgrAbility website:

--Nearly 700 farmers and ranchers die in work-related incidents each year.

--Another 80,000 sustained disabling injuries from work-related incidents in 2005.

--More than 200,000 farmers, ranchers and ag workers lose work time as the result of injuries and occupational illnesses every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

--Thousands more are disabled by off-farm incidents and health conditions.

Returning to the farm or ranch can be difficult. After patients are discharged from care, they return not only to their homes, but also to industrial work sites. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, OT assistants, and PT assistants can play an important role in preparing them to return.

In its 14 years, Nebraska AgrAbility has helped 380 farmers and ranchers, including 80 last year, said Bill Booker, one of two UNL Extension Educators assigned to work with the program. Booker is based in Box Butte County. The other Extension educator is Sharry Nielsen, based in North Platte. Some of the clients are in the Panhandle.

AgrAbility works with community professionals to modify farm and ranch operations, adapt equipment, increase farmstead accessibility, provide financial counseling, identify funding sources, and coordinate community services. AgrAbility does not charge fees, but can refer clients to funding sources. It does not purchase assistive technology (devices, tools, modifications, or other ways of enabling a person to perform a task).

Disabilities may be the result of injuries or chronic health condition or illness. A few examples include amputations, cardiac problems, cancer, hearing or visual impairments, orthopedic injuries, stroke, traumatic brain injuries. Some clients have more than one disability.

Nebraska is one of 27 states with AgrAbility programs or affiliates (formerly funded programs that continue to provide limited services). The state programs are supported by competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Grant recipients partner with a charity to serve active farmers and ranchers. UNL's partner is Easter Seals Nebraska.

Booker said Extension's role is educating the public and discovering clients. The rural rehabilitation specialists are farmers - they do farm visits and come up with assessments to produce a prioritized plan of action. Funding for these projects comes from Vocational Rehabilitation. The AgrAbility input allows this funding process to have an agricultural component.

AgrAbility also provides training to occupational therapists, physical therapists, OT assistants, and PT assistants to provide these professionals with the agricultural component to supplement their therapy training.

In recent weeks, Booker has spent some public outreach time staffing a display at farm and ranch expos in North Platte and Scottsbluff. Upcoming plans include a workshop aimed at helping create a "peer to peer" network, through which Nebraskans who have overcome disabilities can receive special training to reach out and share their experiences with others who can use the services. Potential peer volunteers are being solicited from the ranks of AgrAbility clients or family support members.

Booker said peers or peer supporters can offer valuable assistance in meeting and overcoming the challenges. The workshop's goal is to help develop a professionally trained team to enhance the work done by Nebraska AgrAbility and their associated agencies.

One of the rewarding things about AgrAbility, Booker said, is seeing hope replace hopelessness.

"Some of these guys are down and out and ready to give up, until AgrAbility gets there, then they perk up," he said. "It's nice to see that change in them."

Booker said recovering from a disability is similar in some ways to grieving when a loved one dies. One step of the process is accepting the loss and moving on. In the case of a disability, that's where AgrAbility tries to help.

To contact Nebraska AgrAbility, telephone 800-471-6425 or local Extension offices. Booker's office phone is 308-762-5616.

The Panhandle Research and Extension Center is on the World Wide Web at www.panhandle.unl.edu.


An example of simple assistive technology: A hammer that holds a nail on its head, allowing it to be used with one hand. (Courtesy photo.)

An example of simple assistive technology: A garden hose coupler that can be connected with one hand. (Courtesy photo.)

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