There was a time not that long ago when magazine writers were discouraged from writing stories with disabled farmers because editors that it was such a minority no one should care. One editor was so brazen as to tell his reporter that 'those people shouldn't be farming anyway.' And there was a time not that long ago when even high-powered specialists wanted to come to a disabled person's farm and feature his disability, say for a tour, not what he had accomplished on his own as a farmer and farm manager.
The AgrAbility project, celebrating its 20th year, hasn't erased all of those condescending attitudes, but it has certainly changed many people's opinions. Today more people search to find ways to help someone injured in an accident or born with physical disabilities farm, instead of looking down their nose and telling them to find another profession.
AgrAbility was the brainchild of Bill Field, the Purdue University farm safety specialist who took his task so seriously that he has turned it into many positions, doing many things throughout the state and nation to support farm safety efforts, and to help those who suffer from injuries and accidents at the same time.
Paul Jones manages this national program today. The project is based at Purdue, and sponsored by USDA. A forum was held in Washington DC yesterday to recognize the achievements of this program. You can see the panel discussion, featuring farmers who have benefited from the group's services, by going to: www.youtube.com/user/NationalAgrAbility.
Field also appeared before the forum. AgrAbility was an outgrowth of Breaking New Ground, an Extension Center at Purdue started by Field in 19709 as a resource center for those with special needs.
AgrAbility was authorized in the 1990 Farm Bill, and currently has an annual budget of $4.2 million. About 11,000 people have received direct services from AgrAbility since 1991. Thousands more have been helped via telephone conversations and other consultations.
The organization is active in 25 states, cooperating with the land-grant college there, plus also cooperating with other agencies, such as Goodwill Industries, Easter Seals affiliates and Arthritis Foundation chapters.
AgrAbility has identified some 750 products of potential benefit to farmers and other workers with disabilities. Information about these products can be accessed through: www.agrability.org/toolbox.Hats off to all who continue to help others through the AgrAbility effort.