Assisstive Technology Spotlight: Utility Vehicle (UTV)

One of the most common recommendations AgrAbility makes is for a utility vehicle (UTV). They are great solutions to assist individuals with mobility around the farm. There are many modifications and attachments that can then be added to UTVs to further assist the individual. One great modification, especially this time of year, is an enclosed cab with heat and air conditioning.

Cold weather can make it more difficult for individuals to manage their arthritis. Having a warm place protected from winter wind can help reduce symptoms. This is also a benefit to individuals who have cold sensitivities or individuals who cannot sense when their limbs are cold. As we all know, farmers work outside in all weather conditions. Taking proper precautions, taking breaks and working in warm environments is important. A heated UTV can make a huge difference!

bobcat-utvA cab and heater can be added to most existing utility vehicles or a utility vehicle can be purchased with a cab and heater already installed. If you are interested in adding a cab and heater to an existing utility vehicle you should contact your dealer to determine if this can be done on the model you have.

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Fall flourishes with activities and events from AgrAbility PA

The AgrAbility PA staff has had a busy fall providing farm assessments, working with PA’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, promoting the Bridging Horizons project for PA FFA students, and representing AgrAbility PA at events around the state.

Here’s a snapshot:

  • AgrAbility PA was represented at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Health and Safety Fair on November 15 in Hershey. The fair consisted of health screenings, safety resources, and education opportunities. Mr. Lifty was on hand to teach proper lifting techniques and assistive technology for farming was highlighted through AgrAbility.
  • AgrAbility Project Assistant Abbie Spackman provided assistive technology information to occupational therapy students at Penn State DuBois during as assistive technology awareness day. The event was hosted by DuBois Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and many assistive technology vendors were on hand to speak to the students. AgrAbility PA was excited to share the unique on-farm assistive technology with the students and network with the other vendors.
  • img_1513-1On a legislative front, dozens of statewide organizations, non-profits, and departments gathered in Harrisburg at the Main Capitol Rotunda on October 24 to participate in a Disability Awareness Day, organized by Pennsylvania State Senator Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila). Participants interacted with Pennsylvania lawmakers and staff to raise awareness for inclusion and equality in the workplace for individuals with disabilities.AgrAbility PA was represented by Kendra Martin, Outreach Coordinator. She had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with legislators about how the project helps Pennsylvania farmers remain in the agricultural workforce despite a disability. John McConnell (pictured with Martin), a cattle farmer from Washington, Pa., talked about his positive experience working with AgrAbility PA and Project Director Dr. Connie Baggett.

    October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month in Pennsylvania. During the event, lawmakers could experience and learn about life as a person with disabilities. Representatives from PA Labor & Industry Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, PA Statewide Independent Living Council, PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Susquehanna Service Dogs, Self Determination Housing Project of Pennsylvania, UniqueSource, and United Cerebral Palsy of Central Pennsylvania helped to drive home an important message.

As the busy holiday season approaches, mark your calendar now to come and meet AgrAbility PA at these upcoming events:

PA-WAgN Symposium: Sharing Idea Seeds Across the Rural/Urban Divide
When: December 6, 2016
Where: Celebration Hall, State College, Pa.

This year’s symposium will focus on the art and science of communication. Keynote speaker Lisa Kivirist will share her own experience and that of other women farmers from her new book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. AgrAbility PA will offer important information on services and resources available in the state.
More info: PA-WAgN

Keystone Farm Show
When: January 10-12, 2017
Where: York Fairgrounds – York, Pa.

AgrAbility PA will be present at the Keystone Farm Show, which is the largest commercial farm equipment and service provider trade show in Pennsylvania.
More info:

Veterans, Military, and Their Families Day at the 101st Pennsylvania Farm Show
When: January 12, 2017
Where: PA Farm Show Complex, Harrisburg, Pa.

AgrAbility PA will participate in this day, which features a special event planned by PA’s Department of Agriculture and PA Department of Military and Veterans Affairs focused on agriculture as a career option for Veterans.
More info:

National AgrAbility Project receives funding to continue efforts from 2016 – 2020

usda-nifa-logoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced this week that Purdue University will receive a grant to continue hosting the National AgrAbility Project (NAP). The grant will be in place from 2016 to 2020.
The National AgrAbility Project (NAP) brings together the expertise of a range of partners to encourage individuals with disabilities to get or stay involved in agriculture and become successful. Partners in NAP include Goodwill of the Finger Lakes, The Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), Colorado State University, as well as faculty collaborators from Washington State University and the University of New Mexico. NAP also enhances the involvement of Extension educators at 1890 and 1994 Land Grant institutions and encourages veterans with disabilities to consider agricultural production as a career.

“Agricultural safety and access are key to a thriving agricultural community,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “Through our investments in AgrAbility, we are providing assistance and educational resources to help people with disabilities manage their ranches and farms.”

agrability logoAgrAbility is a NIFA program that invests in national, state, and regional projects to provide education, assistive technology and other support to current and prospective farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility helps thousands of individuals, including older farmers and the veteran community, overcome the barriers to continuing their chosen professions in agriculture.

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians (AgrAbility PA) is a statewide partnership between Penn State Extension and UCP Central PA in support of a project funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The AgrAbility PA project is designed to assist farmers and agricultural workers with disabilities or long-term health conditions by providing the resources and support they need to live independently and to continue working in or return to production agriculture.

Dawn2AgrAbility PA provides the following services at no cost:

  • On-site farm assessments that help identify barriers to successful completion of everyday tasks
  • Identification of safe and appropriate modifications, equipment, or assistive technologies
  • Peer and caregiver support
  • Educational opportunities such as farm safety days, presentations to health care and rehabilitation professionals, county crop and dairy days, and statewide agricultural expositions
  • Referrals and information about state and local resources

To learn more, visit the AgrAbility PA website, email, or call (814) 867-5288.

Assisting Veterans in ag careers needs to be addressed more intentionally

veterans-day-imageIn honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Dr. Connie Baggett penned the following thoughts on how to make a more intentional impact on our Veterans who are interested in pursuing careers in agriculture after military service. Also a Veteran, Dr. Baggett is the Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education at Penn State University and Project Director for AgrAbility PA.

Our greatest thank you to all of our Veterans for your service to our country!

The making of a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine. When a person enters the armed forces, they are trained and conditioned for what lies ahead. Everyone goes through a basic training program to be successful for graduation. Officers and drill sergeants have the tremendous job of turning a civilian into a qualified military service person. Learning discipline is the first order of business. Trainees are taught to stand at attention; many commands like right-face or left-face; and how and when to walk, run, talk, speak, eat, sleep, and salute. Trainees learn camaraderie, teamwork, and military law and punishment—all covered in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.



Dr. Connie Baggett

Soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines are disciplined to follow orders. This sometimes means moving into hostile territory. They follow rules, techniques, and strategies to survive while accomplishing their mission. When their service is complete, they are transferred stateside. This may causes anxiety and stress because most have not had adequate time to process and adjust. This happened to me when I left Vietnam. I reacted to stateside sounds and stimuli as if I were still there.


I mention of all this because the military does an outstanding job of transforming civilians into military service people – dedicated to protecting our freedom and preserving our security. It must be our common goal to ensure they are able to work and live a productive life at home after they return from service. They have made sacrifices beyond what most of us will ever know.

The integration of a Veteran as a productive civilian. There are many organizations and agencies dedicated to helping Veterans adjust to life as a civilian. Such organizations can be found at the federal, state, and local levels, and many are government sponsored and supported. Unfortunately, because Veterans have so many different directions that they may go in, it can be challenging to effectively serve all of them.

Assisting Veterans who choose a career in the agricultural industry needs to be addressed more intentionally. Our project, AgrAbility PA, has been helping Veterans for many years. We provide resources and services to men and women who are battling a long-term health condition or disability – sometimes because of that military service – but they want to remain working in production agriculture. We partner with PA’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, PA’s Assistive Technology Foundation, PA’s Initiative on Assistive Technology, and others to assist farmers in acquiring the essential funding needed to make enhancements, changes, or improvements on a farm to accommodate a health issue or disability. Some Veterans have returned to a family farm after their service and others found a way to get started in farming.

The average age of a Pennsylvania farmer is their mid-50s – and many served our country in World War II, Korean, and Vietnam-era military conflicts. We need to continue to support and enable this generation of farmers. But we must also find a way to assist Veterans returning home from more recent conflicts, such as the Middle East. The chief complaint and request from this new era of Veterans is the need to acquire funds to purchase and equip a farm or Ag business.

The big challenge: Addressing the needs, wants, and desires of this new era Veteran. We need to approach this challenge logically and it begins with training – similar to the significant amount of training that goes into a military service person. We must make it a top priority to:

1) Create an agricultural skill development program for Veterans where they learn about overall farm management – from land and crops to equipment and animals.

2) Assist Veterans who have accomplished such training obtain funds or start-up capital.

3) Identify assistive technology and farm modifications for Veterans with a disability or long-term health condition.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you or someone you know could benefit from our resources and services: (814) 867-5288 or

Dr. Connie Baggett is an Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education at Penn State University and Project Director for AgrAbility PA. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Army Commendation, and Army Commendation with Oak Leaf Cluster in addition to other training and unit medals and citations during his active duty.

Dairy Farmer Remains Active Despite Knee and Back Problems

Located in the hills of Somerset County you will find Little Piney Farm, a dairy farm owned and operated by Richard Coughenour and his family. The farm consists of raising approximately 7 beef cows and 40 dairy cattle, on 234 acres. Acreage includes 95 hay, 55 corn, and 10 oats. “I’ve been a dairy farmer all my life,” Coughenour said. Due to his father’s health condition as a disabled Veteran, Coughenour took over his family’s farm at a young age. “I had a fairly heavy workload when I was younger, and I guess I’m paying the price for it now.”

In 1998, Coughenour was involved in an animal incident that resulted in orthopedic impairment in his knee, which caused fluid in his knee and progressed to swelling. For about two years after the incident, Coughenour continued to receive medical treatment for his knee. In addition to his knee injury, Coughenour was diagnosed with back impairment in 2002-2003. This impairment was caused by completing daily farm responsibilities. Also, as with many farmers, Coughenour has difficulties with pain when required to squat, during repetitive lower extremity activities, and activities that require an increased range of motion of the lumbar spine.

Over the years, Coughenour’s daily farm duties consist of milking, fieldwork, feeding, hay making and operating the tractor and equipment. In order to keep completing these tasks, Coughenour contacted AgrAbility to find out how they could help him.

An important part of the AgrAbility process is connecting farmers to additional resources that can assist in their journey to independence on the farm. A key resource is the Office for Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), which is part of the PA Department of Labor and Industry. In Pennsylvania, OVR works with people who need to make career adjustments due to injuries or illness.


This John Deere Gator saves Richard many steps doing his daily farm chores, such as bringing calves in from the pasture after a cow has calved. Richard is driving while his son Bradley holds the newborn Brown Swiss heifer named Snuggles and Bo, the lab, rides along. (Photo credit: Jackie Coughenour)

In 2006, AgrAbility staff member Linda Fetzer completed an on-farm assessment that helped Coughenour identify the duties he would most like to be able to complete independently. Once he qualified for OVR services through an individual review process, funding was available to Coughenour for a number of on-farm adjustments. Three goals were set in order to improve Coughenour’s daily tasks that involved milking, farm mobility, and accessing and operating the machinery.

Coughenour received modifications that fulfilled the three goals. These included pit parlor matting, a John Deere Gator utility vehicle to increase mobility and make completing tasks easier, steps for his tractor, and suspension seating for two of his tractors.

In 2014, Coughenour contacted AgrAbility a second time due to his health condition affecting his ability to complete necessary farm chores and tasks. During the on-farm assessment, completed by AgrAbility staff members Erica Bobbitt and Dr. Connie Baggett, Coughenour explained that in 2007 he underwent knee surgery, which later turned into total knee replacement in 2009. He also explained that he was suffering from additional back problems, specifically degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis.

After Coughenour went through the OVR process, he received funding for modifications. These modifications consisted of new air ride suspension seats for his tractors, which are much more suitable for supporting and positioning Coughenour as he completes daily tasks. Additional modifications consist of seat replacement in his John Deere Gator utility vehicle, which he uses for most farm activities and would aid in proper tolerance and positioning. Coughenour also received rubber cushion interlocking matting for his milking parlor, which offer much more support and prevention of manure from seeping underneath the matting, and a crowd gate. The crowd gate helps to move cows to the milking parlor once they are in the barn. Additionally, Coughenour received Bergman Speed Hitches. While speaking with Mrs. Coughenour, she explained that the hitches allow him to hook up and unhook forage wagons, to and from the forage harvester, without getting in and out of the tractor. “Every time I change from a loaded wagon to an empty wagon I would have to get out of the tractor two times and back in the tractor two times. Days that we cut 14 or 16 loads that saves a lot strain on my knees and back.” Coughenour said.

Coughenour explained that Wanda Satzer of OVR was instrumental in receiving the crowd gate modification. “I had a real good lady working at OVR and she fought good for me. Wanda grew up around Bedford County and knows farming, and that was very helpful in that respect.” Coughenour said. “The crowd gate has been really helpful.”

Coughenour is very satisfied with his involvement in AgrAbility and when asked about recommending it to other farmers with a disability he said, “Yes, as a matter of fact I already have.”

To find out more information about AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians, visit or call (814) 867-5288.

Written by Colleen Pease, Graduate Assistant – AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians