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AgrAbility program keeps farmers farming

Published on May 13, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on June 10, 2011 8:39AM

Oregon extension would aid ag workers with disabilities


For the Capital Press

Safety experts agree that farming is risky business.

"Agriculture is one of the five most dangerous industries," said Eric Olson, National AgrAbility project manager for Goodwill Industries.

Olson coordinated a recent workshop at Oregon State University to introduce AgrAbility, a national project to "enable a high quality lifestyle for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities."

AgrAbility, funded by the USDA, is based at Purdue University in partnership with Goodwill, the Arthritis Foundation and the University of Illinois.

AgrAbility has regional projects in 24 states, including California, and partners with land grant universities and nonprofit organizations.

The disabilities are wide-ranging, from severe traumatic accidents and amputation to chronic conditions like arthritis or mental health problems.

"All farmers who have disabilities that hinder their work are eligible, as are family members," Olson said.

Although California has the only funded project in our region, the workshop was part of an effort to win a grant for Oregon.

Nancy Krusen, an assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy School at Pacific University, was the catalyst for Oregon. She moved from Colorado, where a 12-year AgrAbility project has been renewed, and was surprised that Oregon didn't have a project.

Since it's estimated that many farmers and ranchers have a disability and there are 38,000 farms in Oregon, Krusen said there are potentially thousands of farmers who could benefit. Family farms are the most common here, where agriculture is responsible for 15 percent of the state's economy.

Krusen said that the services of AgrAbility do not cost farmers anything. Generally, the way it works is that someone familiar with agriculture goes to the farm and recommends modifications to equipment.

Once an assessment has been made, the search is on for how to make that happen, whether through vocational rehab or veterans affairs or non-profit service organizations.

Modifications might be as simple as ramps or as complex as equipment adaptations. Hand tools like shovels and hay forks have extension grips for individuals with one arm.

Krusen envisions the Oregon project would have a coordinator who would organize and identify consulting providers in eastern Oregon, the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon. Workshops for farmers, hosted by OSU extension offices, would be held.

"AgrAbility would provide networking between producers and suppliers of services, direct service, education and marketing," she said.

The grant application is for $200,000 over three years.

"Unfortunately, although all states are eligible, there's only enough money for less than half of them. And the competition now is between a couple of existing projects," she said.

The workshop was held to build interest and knowledge within the state.Carl

Participants discussed the fierce independence and entrepreneurial spirit of farmers, a spirit that often leads to secondary injuries. These happen because of homemade and often dangerous accommodations farmers create to get around disabilities.

Olson said, "They develop some pretty unsafe things in an attempt to get it done."

One participant shared a story about a farmer with post-polio syndrome who was on crutches. The way he was getting on his combine was by having his 90-year-old mother lift him up using a scissor jack.

Don Poole, a 56-year-old fruit grower from Hood River, lost both of his legs in a farm accident several years ago.

Poole said, "I learned a lot in the first few minutes after the accident. You can have a beautiful orchard and a great crop, but what really matters is your family."

Today on the farm, Poole's biggest problems are getting on and off his equipment and modifying the controls -- problems he hopes AgrAbility can help solve.


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