It is a powerful thing to be able to give someone hope. For individuals who work in agriculture and have been injured or disabled, even in non-farm accidents, those folks just want to work in their chosen occupation again. They wish for something to happen to change their situation. That’s hope, and it’s what AgrAbility gives to people in the agriculture field. AgrAbility provides information and services that may make it possible to return to farming.
In Georgia, AgrAbility is a free service and is part of a national program administered through the United States Department of Agriculture. The program focuses on promoting independence for members of the agricultural community who have disabilities.
Helping Producers Help Themselves
Rebecca Brightwell, co-director of AgrAbility at the University of Georgia Athens campus, knows that farmers are some of the most self-reliant people on the planet and often don’t want to reach out for assistance from anyone.
“We really want them to think of it this way,” she says. “If you are up and productive, then you are giving back. Local people depend on you – farm workers, hardware stores, your mills or gins or farmer’s markets and the local veterinarian. All of these and more will receive the benefit of the producer being back on the job. Some producers want very little help and some want and need more help.”
Knowing that farmers tend to be very inventive and natural problem-solvers, she says that many times the producer has already figured out what is needed or needs to be done, and their organization will help bring their ideas to fruition. Other times, Brightwell says, the producer may not know what is needed, and they will study the producer or worker’s situation and make suggestions.
“We always want the producer to be in control of what is done,” she says.
Help From Many Partners
Brightwell, who is also associate director of the Institute on Human Development and Disability at the UGA Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research & Service, says the program, with the help of program partners, has helped more than 1,000 families, but they are ready to do more.
The AgrAbility program in Georgia is managed by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Institute on Human Development and Disability in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. AgrAbility is proud to partner with the Shepherd Center, one of the top rehabilitation hospitals in the nation, specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury.
Another partner is the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation, which provides a wide range of services designed to help individuals with disabilities prepare for and engage in gainful employment. Every state has a Vocational Rehabilitation program under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
Where To Begin
“It all starts with a phone call – what are they having difficulty doing?” Brightwell says. “A staff member will ask them a few questions about their health condition and/or disability and about the farming operation.
“From there, we will set up a time to visit their farm or ranch and basically shadow them for a day to see their work and what difficulties they are having. Then, we will create an individualized plan that may include assistive technology to make tasks easier, a business plan to help grow the business, community or student volunteer projects or many other resources.”
Brightwell says the producer is always in control, but their staff is trained to see and do things the producer may not have envisioned.
“They have ideas; we have ideas,” she says. “Each case is different.”
Getting A Lift
Richard Stanley is a Georgia producer and rancher who has Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare inflammatory auto-immune disorder of the peripheral nerves that causes numbness, tingling, weakness or even paralysis. After being diagnosed with the syndrome, Stanley had to watch others running his tractors while longing to be the one in the tractor, himself.
AgrAbility assisted Stanley in getting a lift that would help him get up and into his tractor.
“After six or seven years, I was able to get back into my tractor,” Stanley says. “I thought it was the greatest thing. It was amazing.”
Brightwell says in some cases that AgrAbility has been involved in bringing the whole community together for a project.
“Once, we had a blueberry producer who, because of his arthritis, could not prune his blueberry bushes in the timeframe needed,” she says. “We put a call out into the community of the need and ended up with more than 100 volunteers to help prune the bushes.
“The job can be small or large; we are just there to help.”
Here To Help
Richey Seaton, executive director of the Georgia Cotton Commission who is also on the advisory council of AgrAbility, says he is honored to have been invited to serve on the advisory board and also wants everyone to be aware that assistance and hope are readily available.
“AgrAbility brings together resour-ces that enable people who have disabilities to continue their chosen vocations,” he says. “Georgia is fortunate to be a part of this national program; its success stories are amazing.”
National Program Available
Other states with AgrAbility programs include Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. For a complete listing, go to www.agrability.org.
Those producers in states without an AgrAbility program can still be helped through the national program administered through Purdue University. See the above Web site for contacts of the national program.
Contact Amanda Huber at (352) 486-7006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.