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AgrAbility Makes Horticulture Accessible

This time of year, the weather slows down the average Indiana Master Gardener. Energy that might be spent digging out dandelions or planting tomatoes goes to digging through the freezer for the goods we preserved the previous season and planting ourselves in front of the computer or television. For some farmers, though, slow down finds itself in the form of lasting disability. In those cases, the AgrAbility program is there to help.

Focused on assisting those with disabilities in the agriculture industry, the program’s funding comes from the USDA and 11 other sources, according to Paul Jones, manager of the National AgrAbility Project at Purdue University. All of the 20 state programs and the one national program are housed at land-grant universities. Currently, Purdue holds the national-office distinction, and has recently made a request for state-level funding.

AgrAbility’s federal funding began in 1991 under dollars earmarked in the 1990 Farm Bill, Jones said. Purdue began working with the disabled farmer population in 1979, however, when an Indiana disabled farmer requested assistance. The result of the assistance request was the Breaking New Ground (BNG) program, which became a model for AgrAbility.

Ed Bell was shot in 1983 at the age of 21, rendering him paralyzed from the chest down. Moving from swine production to asparagus and strawberries, the Hagerstown, IN resident made the change so that he could continue working in the agricultural industry, but physically manage his role. He also now acts as a consultant and inspirational speaker for BNG. Visit the YouTube link to see a story about him.

“We consider AgrAbility primarily an employment-related program,” Paul said.

 “We want to help farmers with disabilities regain or maintain their ability to work. However, we also assist with other quality of life issues, like helping caregivers. BNG has also supported efforts to make facilities like Extension offices, rural businesses, and rural libraries more accessible to people with disabilities.” The organization’s web page identifies other potential successes for the organization. Seeing assistive technologies used in work or daily living activities or achieving the treatment of a condition that caused disability also meet program objectives. One section of the AgrAbility site, The Toolbox, allows the user to search for adaptive technology. Even without a disability, I was tempted by the way included tools could make life outdoors run more smoothly. Beneficiaries of the program are reached largely through referrals from the state’s vocational rehabilitation system, word-of-mouth, at the state fair, and on the internet, Jones informed.

 According to the organization’s web page, those objectives can be applied in a variety of disabling circumstances. Arthritis, back impairments, amputations, brain injuries, visual or hearing impairments, disabling diseases, cerebral palsy, respiratory impairments, and more could be mitigated through effective resource application found through AgrAbility’s networking. Click on this link to see an extensive list of issues and resources.

Those with physical challenges are not the only demographic the organization considers. Each year, the Bridging Horizons Contest offers FFA chapters the chance to do service projects for community members with disabilities. Master Gardeners can also enjoy programming like Gardening with Arthritis publications and presentations.

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