Despite setbacks, Ryan Frye continues to live his dream working on his family farm in Blairsville, Pa.

Ryan Frye

Ryan Frye in his Action Trackstander

Ryan Frye was like most graduating high school students in 2005 – ready to start the next chapter in his life. The Blairsville, Pa. native was looking forward to full-time work on his family’s farm, RDR Farms, started by his grandfather in 1978. The farm had encompassed Ryan’s whole life.

“I grew up on the farm. It’s always been a passion of mine, something I love,” said Ryan.

But a year later, in May 2006, Ryan experienced an unfortunate setback. While riding an ATV recreationally in an unfamiliar area, Ryan rode over a 35-ft. embankment. When he hit the bottom, the 600-pound vehicle came down on his back.

The incident resulted in a compression fracture at T12, and broke one of his metacarpals in his left hand. The T12 vertebra is located in middle of the back and sits just above the lumbar. Ryan underwent surgeries to repair the bone in his hand, and a back fusion surgery to fuse his spine from T9 to L2.

Ryan initially had the ability to move his legs and was working on strengthening. However, another setback occurred within the first few weeks of recovery when the hematoma in his spine (from the original impact of the accident) started to bleed, damaging the nerves in his spinal cord. He lost all feeling from the waist down. Ryan spent the next several months undergoing rehabilitation, learning how to move with the aid of a wheelchair and how to move forward with his disability.

A few years passed, but Ryan was not idle. In 2007, he started creating his own hand controls for the tractors and utility vehicles, and adjusted his work around the farm. He was able to operate equipment and tend to some basic tasks. In 2012, Ryan was able to purchase the neighboring farm that borders his family’s property, which was a bright spot in working towards his future.

In 2014, Ryan connected with PA’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), which is part of the PA Department of Labor and Industry. OVR provides vocational rehabilitation services to help people with disabilities. An OVR farm coordinator visited Ryan on the farm, and recommended a partnership with a program affiliated with Penn State University: AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians. Ryan was thrilled to learn that there was assistance available to help him access services and assistive technology specially needed to allow him to remain in farming.

In 2015, Ryan met with Abbie Spackman, AgrAbility PA Project Assistant, who performed a farm assessment and talked with him about his obstacles on the farm. The biggest hurdle was Ryan’s access on the farm: getting into the tractors and traveling across the 800-acre farm. Ryan had been hoisting himself up to get into the tractors – a major safety concern and it was affecting his upper body, mainly his shoulders. On days when he could not do this, his mom or dad would sling him over their shoulders to move him. He also needed a more durable wheelchair and a lift to put his wheelchair into his utility vehicle.

“I was really impressed by all of the things he was doing on his farm. He had hand controls on his equipment and made other adjustments on his own because he was determined to keep farming,” said Abbie. “We had to address a few safety concerns and look at how he could protect his shoulders and arms for the future. A large portion of the farm evaluation focused on preventing secondary injury.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 12.38.53 PMThe answer came in the form of a few pieces of equipment funded by OVR earlier this year. Ryan received a flatbed truck lift from Life Essentials. It is a crane-type piece of equipment that sits in the corner of a truck bed and articulates around to allow access to the truck door, bed, and back to a trailer or hitch-receiver. Ryan is able to transfer directly across from a driver’s seat to a tractor seat using a wireless remote. The lift operates with a hydraulic lift pump for the up and down motion, and 12-volt gear motors for the arm motion. It has a reach of 14 ft. and can go 12 ft. in the air.


“It does numerous things, not just access to the tractors, but it will also pick my wheelchair up and stow it in the bed,” said Ryan. “Being able to do this on my own, independent from the assistance of my parents is unbelievable.”

Ryan also received an Action Trackstander, which is a power wheelchair on rubber tracks that allows him greater access to the barns, his workshop, and the rugged terrain around the farm. The chair – painted in a green and brown camouflage – converts to a standing position with electronic hand controls. This allows him to work on equipment and projects that require the need to stand. The broad and diverse functionality of this type of chair allows Ryan to work productively and efficiently around the farm – but it has also restored his freedom and independence, which he says is “a priceless feeling to be able to do most of the things I used to be able to do around the farm. My world has opened back up.”

“Ryan is an inspiring young man, and knowing that we have farmers like him producing our food is tremendously encouraging,” said Abbie.

Ryan is grateful for the support and resources provided by AgrAbility PA and OVR. Ryan and his family are currently converting their dairy farm into a beef and grain operation. One of the first tests of Ryan’s Action Trackstander came when he and his dad pulled 4,000 ft. of wire fencing in two days.

“It ran all day – no issues. It kept up with me,” he laughed.

Ryan’s health has been good and his shoulder pain has drastically subsided since using the new equipment. He is looking forward to expanding the business. Truth be told, the 30 year old cannot imagine his life if he were not working on the farm.

“It’s in my blood. It’s where I’m going to stay.”


Farm Aid ’17: AgrAbility projects team-up for star-studded event to aid farmers


It didn’t take much to convince 22,000+ people to flood the KeyBank Pavilion on Sept. 16 in Burgettstown, Pa. (near Pittsburgh) to support farmers and agriculture — Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, and several other artists certainly helped. 🙂


Willie Nelson & Neil Young on stage answering questions about Farm Aid ’17.

We’re talking about Farm Aid — Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land. Dave Matthews joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001. Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture. Farm Aid is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on the land.

In The Homegrown Village, thousands of festival goers explored interactive exhibits and activities. Food and farm groups from across the country showcased exhibits, including AgrAbility projects from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Festival goers could get their hands dirty by trying out assistive technology equipment in raised garden beds, sat inside a modified John Deere tractor, and held ergonomic tools, gloves, and other devices. Many farmers with a disability or health condition that AgrAbility works with use several of these tools, devices, or modifications on their farms.

Lisa Pfeifer (Ohio AgrAbility),  Kendra Martin (AgrAbility PA), and Jessi Wright and Doug Cumpston (West Virginia AgrAbility) collaborated to pull together AgrAbility’s presence at the event. Farm Aid was thrilled to have AgrAbility a part of the event, and asked about additional resources and information that could be posted to their website, social media, and other materials.

This team is looking forward to next steps and future collaboration, not only with Farm Aid, but even more as a tri-state area that have AgrAbility projects in connecting states. 


To learn more about AgrAbility, visit the National AgrAbility Project.

State Project Links:
West Virginia

Five things you MISSED if you missed Ag Progress Days this year

AgrAbility PA took part in Penn State’s 2017 Ag Progress Days in August at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center near University Park. It was one for the record books with pleasant weather, thousands of people in attendance, and excellent representation from agricultural vendors, organizations, and more!

Ag Progress Days is Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition! AgrAbility PA teamed up with the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health to host activities in the Rural Health and Safety tent near the Farm Safety Demonstration Area.

So, if you missed it, you MISSED SEEING A LOT! But no worries, the event will be back next year. SAVE THE DATE: August 14 – 16, 2018

We won’t make you wait that long to see what AgrAbility PA had to offer at the event. 🙂

Five things you missed at Ag Progress Days this year…

  1. Free Chips — Yes, that’s right. Thanks to Middleswarth Potato ChipsMiddleswarth logo for sponsoring our Snack and Chat for current and potential AgrAbility clients. If you don’t know about this amazing brand of chips that hails from Middleburg, Pa., you MUST order a bag! The Weekender (10oz.) in bar-b-q is a good place to start!
  2. Ergonomic Tools – Our booth exhibited a number of tools and assistive technology that can make any type of work around a farm or garden more enjoyable and provide some comfort or easement. The most popular item, Gripeeze gloves, were tried on by many – kids and adults! Also featured: a padded 2-in-1 gardening stool, Robo handles for lawn tools, one-hand nail-starting hammers, a pair of pliers with a magnifier and more. A digital picture frame also featured larger pieces of assistive technology: UTVs, grain bins, milking parlor takeoffs and rail systems, truck and tractor lifts, and more.


  3. Strong Arm Lift – AgrAbility PA featured this product in a recent e-newsletter and we were thrilled to see this product in action in person. Watch the VIDEO on our Facebook page! This company is based on a Pennsylvania farm and makes a device that is designed to bolt onto a utility vehicle and assist with loading heavy objects – think rocks, boulders, feed bags, large bins, and other weighted items. Multiple attachments enable you to perform a variety of other tasks.This could greatly assist any farmer, and especially those who experience trouble lifting and hauling heavy, cumbersome objects. More on Strong Arm Lift’s website.1st Choice(1).jpg
  4. Mr. Lifty – One of the most asked about items at our booth: What does this do? It’s great for kids (and their parents are watching, too) to learn how to lift properly as to lessen the strain on your back and other joints. Place the heavy item between your feet, bend at the knees, and lift with your legs is the key message from this demonstration. Part of AgrAbility’s message is prevention – being safe to prevent injuries. Our staff meets many farmers across the state that suffer from back injuries and joint impairments. It is one of the more frequent disabilities or health conditions among the agricultural community.
  5. One Word: Us! – If you missed Ag Progress Days this year, that means WE didn’t get a chance to talk with YOU to learn more about what you do…and most important how we can work with YOU! Our staff is committed to assisting farmers by linking them to potential resources and providing support to farmers with a disability or long-term health condition. Several staff members were present throughout the three days to talk with farmers: Abbie Spackman, project assistant; Dwight Heller, occupational therapist; Linda Fetzer, project associate; Dr. Connie Baggett, project director; and Kendra Martin, outreach coordinator.

    Abbie Spackman, project assistant, with PA OVR Staff Member Jim Casey and Dwight Heller, occupational therapist

    GOOD NEWS!! You can contact us anytime at (814) 867-5288 OR to find out more about what we can do and how we can help.

For more information, visit the Ag Progress Days website. Twitter users can find information about the event by searching the hashtag #agprogressdays and Facebook users can find the event here.

PSU’s 2017 Ag Progress Days: Aug 15-17

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians will participate in Penn State’s 2017 Ag Progress Days, which takes place on Tuesday, August 15 through Thursday, August 17 at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rocks Spring. Ag Progress Days is Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition.

AgrAbility PA is teaming up with the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health to host activities in the Rural Health & Safety Tent located at the end of West 6th St., next to the Farm Safety Demonstration Area.

IMG_1068Staff members from AgrAbility PA will be present to share information and resources with farmers and agricultural workers on how to remain in farming despite a disability or long-term health condition. Visitors to the AgrAbility PA booth will also be able to see examples of adaptive equipment, assistive technologies, and other modifications that make working around the farm more accessible.

Visitors to the Rural Health & Safety Tent may also take advantage of free daily health screenings that will be provided:

  • Vision tests from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Blood pressure readings from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Personal protection equipment presentations at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
    (Earn one core pesticide credit by attending a 30-minute presentation)
  • Stroke risk assessments from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Resources about dental hygiene
Additional information will be provided by Centre HomeCare, New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, Mount Nittany Health, North Central Sight Services, and the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health.



Concerned about mobility around the show grounds? Individuals with medical conditions or disabilities are welcome (and encouraged) to bring their own mobility aid devices — Ventracs, utility vehicles, power wheelchairs, and so forth.

Golf carts (courtesy of Lancaster Farming) will be available on a first come, first serve basis for TWO HOUR increments to individuals who need them for mobility. You can find this service located in the Ag Pavilion near Headquarters (the white house).

T&B Medical has a limited supply of scooter rentals available onsite. Pre-reservations are recommended. Contact: 888-950-0900 or 814-466-8736.

Accessible parking spaces are available for individuals displaying handicap permits. All parking is free.

Still have questions? Please contact Abbie Spackman (AgrAbility PA Project Assistant) at 814-867-5288 or



Sponsored by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, Ag Progress Days is held at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 15; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 16; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 17. Admission and parking are free.

Ag Progress Days
View of West Side of Ag Progress Days with the Rural Health & Safety Tent in the background. Source: Ag Progress Days Flickr Account

For more information, visit the Ag Progress Days website. Twitter users can find and share information about the event by using the hashtag #agprogressdays and Facebook users can find the event here.

About AgrAbility PA

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). Since initial funding in 1991, NIFA has awarded AgrAbility grants to more than 35 states resulting in on-farm assistance to more than 12,000 farmers, while educating thousands of professionals on how to accommodate those with disabilities in agriculture.

AgrAbility PA assists farmers and other agricultural workers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 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. AgrAbility PA has been providing information and direct services to farmers and farm family members affected by disability or long term health condition since 1995. Some of the more common disabilities or health conditions that Pennsylvania farmers may have include: arthritis, spinal cord injury, amputation, traumatic brain injury, stroke, diabetes, visual or hearing loss, respiratory problems, and back impairment or joint injuries.

AgrAbility PA staff provides a variety of services, at no cost, for farmers and farm families:

  • On-site farm assessment to identify barriers to completing essential everyday tasks and chores, both in the agricultural workplace and the home.
  • Identification of safe and appropriate assistive technologies (equipment/devices and efficient modified work practices).
  • Referral to information resource materials on a variety of topics related to agriculture and disability.
  • Access to face-to-face educational training opportunities through workshops, conferences, and seminars as well as online blogs and programs.
  • Referral to other service providers for potential assistance (e.g., funding resources, occupational or physical therapy assessments) specific to the farmer’s or farm family’s needs.
  • Provide peer support opportunities to connect farmers to one another.

AgrAbility PA does not provide direct funding, however, the staff works with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF), Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT), and other third-party funding sources to help farmers and farm families obtain needed equipment, assistive technologies, and/or modifications.

For more information, visit the AgrAbility PA website or follow AgrAbility PA on social media: Like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or on our WordPress blog. Contact AgrAbility PA at or (814) 867-5288 for more details.

About Ag Progress Days

Ag Progress Days features the latest technology and research exhibits, educational programs, and guided tours. Sponsored by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, it is one of only three agricultural exhibitions in the country sponsored by a major university. Exhibits showcase the latest in Penn State research, as well as information on best management practices and changing regulations in the agricultural industry.

With close to 500 exhibitors from 34 states and 4 provinces of Canada, there is something for everyone. Each year, farming families from across Pennsylvania and surrounding states attend this three-day event. Of the 45,000 expected attendees, over 60 percent are actively engaged in agriculture or related professions. Ag Progress Days features more than 80 acres for crops and machinery demonstrations, and 55 acres for indoor and outdoor exhibits.

For more information, visit the Ag Progress Days website at Twitter users can find and share information about the event by using the hashtag #agprogressdays and Facebook users can find the event here.

Q&A with AgrAbility PA’s Occupational Therapist: Dwight Heller

What to Expect During an On-Farm Occupational Therapy Evaluation

guy with sheep croppedOccupational therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession that focuses on helping people participate in the meaningful activities they need and want to do. Occupational therapists enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or a disability.

AgrAbility PA services include an on-farm occupational therapy evaluation that is FREE to the farmer. Evaluations are completed by a licensed occupational therapist.

Dwight Heller

Dwight Heller, OTR/L, CHT

Dwight Heller, a licensed OT practitioner, has been working with AgrAbility PA clients since 2001. He shared with us answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the OT evaluation process.

Why is an OT evaluation important to my farming future?

OT is about optimizing one’s ability to be as independent as possible with their farming daily activities yet at the same time enabling them to cope with their medical disability. The origins of OT includes adaptive equipment. Farming is a very difficult job both physically and mentally. OT can educate farmers on ways to incorporate joint and soft tissue conservation preventing deformity by means of adaptive equipment.


What typically happens during an on-farm OT evaluation?

It consists of working with individual farmers’ as a team member reviewing their medical history, cardio-respiratory skills, orthopedic status, skin integrity, extremity active and passive movement, muscle strength, and problem areas that each one is having due to their medical complexities. We then collaboratively match adaptive equipment to their medical problem, which will enable them to farm with greater ease, efficiency, independence, and safety.

How should I prepare for the evaluation?

Allow a few hours during the day to complete all the comprehensive steps of the evaluation. Portions of the evaluation are completed indoors as well as outdoors. The evaluation will also include observation of actual or simulated farming activities that the farmer is having difficulties performing.

What is the most common disability or long-term health condition evaluated?

Degenerative joint disease or disc disease associated with joint pain and muscle weakness.

Will the occupational therapist understand my farm-specific needs?

I have spent close to half my life working on a dairy farm I can appreciated early mornings and late evening hours working and the 24 hours on the job. I know farming is not always a convenient life but it offers a joyful life through the sense of accomplishment and positive impact to the local communities. I appreciate the benefits of a farming family working together building a life together. Having the medical background from occupational therapy as well as my former farming experience, I am able to individually customize farming adaptive equipment to each farmer complementing their specific need.

How can I receive an occupational therapy evaluation?

Occupational therapy evaluations are part of the services AgrAbility PA provides, FREE of charge, to their clients. Contact AgrAbility PA to determine if you are eligible to receive an evaluation.

Phone: (814) 867-5288

Dwight Heller was born and raised on a Pennsylvania family-operated dairy farm. He has been in practice for more than 19 years with UPMC/Susquehanna and is a certified hand therapist. He enjoys enabling farmers to resume their passion of farming through the means of adaptive equipment.

Top OT Take-Aways

1. Recognize daily farming activities that are repetitive and labor intensive. Plan your day by pacing your time, simplify the farming task, avoiding extra trips, and repetitive lifting. Take frequent rest breaks.

2. Take a step back and look at the farming activity. Ask yourself: “Is this the most efficient and safe way for me to perform?”

3. Do some basic arm and leg stretches as well as trunk rotation exercises to improve flexibility and prepare joints and soft tissue structures for activity.