USDA awards AgrAbility grants to Penn State, 20 others, to expand access to farming for Americans with disabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on October 14, 2015 announced 21 grants to land-grant universities to assist farmers and ranchers living with a disability to continue being active in agriculture. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grants, totaling more than $4 million, through the AgrAbility Program.

“During October, while we observe Disability Employment Awareness Month, it’s appropriate to recognize the importance of assistive technology and safety techniques in agriculture,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “These grants enable farmers and ranchers with disabilities to keep working–safely and productively– and keeping farmers and ranchers at work ensures thriving rural communities and economies.”

The Pennsylvania State University Extension (State College) in partnership with UCP Central PA (Camp Hill) was awarded $189,000 to continue the established, state-level project: AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians. The goal of the partnership is to assist farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities or long-term health conditions by providing the resources and support they need to live independently and continue in production agriculture. AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians has been providing information and direct services to farmers and farm family members affected by disability or a long term health condition since 1995.

“This program will undoubtedly have positive results and will certainly improve the lives of farmers in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Connie Baggett, AgrAbility Project Director and Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education at Pennsylvania State University.

Some of the more common disabilities or health conditions that farmers may have include:
• Arthritis
• Spinal cord injury
• Amputation
• Traumatic brain injury
• Stroke
• Diabetes
• Visual or hearing loss
• Respiratory problems
• Back impairment

AgrAbility staff can provide a variety of services, at no cost, for these farmers and farm families who want to remain in or return to production agriculture. Services offered include:

• 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.

• Peer support opportunities to connect farmers to one another.

“I am so grateful for the things that AgrAbility and OVR were able to do for me. Their help came at a time when things were really bleak, and the support they gave made a real difference. Farmers with back or knee problems, those with arthritis or some other injury, should not hesitate to get in touch with the project,” said Lynn C., an AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians client.

AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians does not provide direct funding for equipment. However, AgrAbility staff works with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation, and other third-party funding sources to help farmers and families obtain needed assistive technology and modifications.

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