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
Email: AgrAbility@psu.edu
Web: AgrAbilityPA.org

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.


AgrAbility PA recognizes winning PA FFA chapters in Bridging Horizons PA Contest

image_leadimageAgrAbility PA recognized three FFA chapters from the mid-state – Cumberland Valley, Central Columbia, and Columbia-Montour A.V.T.S. – as winners in its inaugural Bridging Horizons PA Contest.

The contest provided an opportunity for any Pennsylvania FFA Association chapter to make a positive impact in their community by enhancing independence or promoting success for farmers and their families with disabilities.

Entry categories included three options: completing a service project, developing an assistive technology tabletop demo, or creating a video presentation. The Central Columbia FFA and Columbia-Montour AVTS FFA chapters split $400 as they collaborated on a service project. The Cumberland County FFA received $400 for an assistive technology tabletop demo.

Student representatives from each chapter accepted certificates on June 14 during a General Session event at the Bryce Jordan Center as part of Pennsylvania FFA’s 88th State Convention & Activities Week at Penn State. AgrAbility PA Project Director and Penn State Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education Dr. Connie Baggett presented the awards on stage to Nina, Nick, and Kennedy.

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Dr. Connie Baggett with Nina, Nick, and Kennedy at the 88th State Convention & Activities Week.

“We are pleased to recognize these students, in conjunction with their FFA chapter, whom exemplify not only the core principles of the Pennsylvania FFA – Purpose, Passion, and Potential – but also for their leadership to serve their communities at large with their time and talents,” said Dr. Baggett.

Mike Brammer, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania FFA, thanked AgrAbility PA for offering the Bridging Horizons PA Contest to FFA chapters as a way to support school-based agricultural education.


Students from the Central Columbia FFA and Columbia-Montour AVTS FFA chapters worked collaboratively at the Eos Therapeutic Riding Center in Bloomsburg, Pa. The center provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons for mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged children and adults. The students worked over the course of a year to assist with facility needs, riding equipment needs, and rider needs.

A student with the Cumberland Valley FFA chapter developed a myoelectric prosthetic hand. This assistive technology developed out of an agriscience research project conducted by a student with an interest in robotics and prosthetics. The student started by creating models of hands from drinking straws and emerged into creating a function model out of lumber. The project evolved after a model of a hand was 3-D printed and programmed to operate from an electrical stimulus.

AgrAbility PA assists farmers and agricultural workers with disabilities or long-term health conditions by linking them with potential resources and by providing support they need to live independently and continue working in or return to production agriculture.

Information about next year’s Bridging Horizons Contest will be available on September 1, 2017 at http://www.bridginghorizonspa.org.

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).

Learn more about AgrAbility PA by visiting http://www.AgrAbilityPA.org, calling (814) 867-5288, emailing AgrAbility@psu.edu, or searching @AgrAbilityPA on social media.