AgrAbility: 30 Years of Impact – Program Information

Over 13,600 Clients; Multitudes More Served

It is estimated that during its 30-year history, AgrAbility has provided direct, on-site services to more than 13,600 individuals. A typical site visit involves an AgrAbility staff member touring the client’s operation to identify barriers to productivity and discuss potential solutions. Ongoing services include additional visits, phone follow-up, and referrals to other assisting organizations, such as state vocational rehabilitation agencies. However, in addition to these intensive on-site services, AgrAbility staff members have assisted hundreds of thousands of people through phone contacts, emails, workshops, publications, exhibits at events, and web resources. Top

Broad Spectrum of Abilities

AgrAbility assists people with all types of abilities – and disabilities. While some clients have sustained traumatic injuries, such as those incurred in farm- or vehicle-related incidents, many others struggle with chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back impairments, and other joint-related limitations. It’s not just physical disabilities that AgrAbility addresses: staff members also assist clients who have mental/behavioral health issues, including veterans who are dealing with PTSD. Top

Coalition of Partnerships

An important aspect of AgrAbility’s structure is the requirement for partnerships: land-grant university Extension services must subcontract with nonprofit disability services organizations. Agricultural expertise is provided through the university, and the nonprofit provides disability expertise. Over the 30 years of AgrAbility, more than 40 universities have been involved and an even greater number of nonprofits have participated, including Easterseals, Goodwill, Arthritis Foundation, Tech Act projects, United Cerebral Palsy, centers for independent living, Osteoarthritis Action Alliance, AgriSafe Network, and many more. Top

The Power of Collaboration

Because the interface of disability and agriculture requires expertise and resources that no one person or organization can provide, AgrAbility staff members must be experts at networking. Therefore, collaboration with occupational therapists, Extension educators, and professionals from other nonprofit organizations is essential. Since AgrAbility is not allowed to provide funding or equipment to clients through its USDA grants, it relies heavily on state vocational rehabilitation agencies to supply assistive technologies, building modifications, and other critical services. Funding from external organizations like agriculture-related companies and foundations is also important to supporting outreach. Top

Beyond Physical Issues

In its earlier days, AgrAbility focused primarily on physical disabilities and assistive technologies needed to accommodate them. However, over the years the program has evolved to where it recognizes that not all barriers are readily apparent. For example, during the late 1990s, AgrAbility put significant effort into assisting the caregivers of farmers with disabilities, since it’s not just the person with a disability that faces struggles. More recently, farm stress and mental health have come to the forefront, and AgrAbility has responded by participating in such efforts as USDA’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network and by conducting Mental Health First Aid and QPR trainings. Top

Serving Those Who Served

Agriculture has become an important source of employment and healing for military veterans. After leaving the service, many discover that working in agriculture fulfills them in ways that other occupations can’t. AgrAbility engages with veterans at multiple levels. For example, National AgrAbility collaborates closely with the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), and many state projects work with their state FVC chapters. Other examples of AgrAbility veteran initiatives include participation in USDA AgVets grant projects and the development of unique state programs like Maine AgrAbility’s “Boots-2-Bushels” and Texas AgrAbility’s “Battleground to Breaking Ground.” Top

Expanded Outreach through the Web

Over the past 30 years, AgrAbility’s impact has been greatly multiplied by the internet – a technology that few had heard of when AgrAbility began. The web provides a means of communication through which clients, professionals, and others can correspond directly with AgrAbility staff members; it functions as a repository of scores of AgrAbility publications, videos, and other resources that can be accessed anytime, anywhere with the right technologies; and it provides a conduit for live training events to worldwide audiences that can be archived for future use. The site currently receives more than 5 million hits and 440,000 total visitors per year. Top

Global Impact

Although focused on agricultural workers in the U.S., many of the concepts and technologies recommended or developed by AgrAbility staff members are relevant to those in other nations, including developing countries. To facilitate information transfer on a global scale, National AgrAbility has engaged an assistive technology specialist to help catalog and disseminate information about low-tech assistive technologies that could benefit agricultural workers anywhere. AgrAbility has welcomed international attendees to its conferences, has conducted training in more than 10 countries, and is currently involved with the emerging AgrAbility for Africa effort. Top

Evidence-Based Resources

As a land-grant university Extension program, AgrAbility’s primary task is dissemi­nating evidence-based information to the public.  Though not explicitly a research program, AgrAbility staff members (and the graduate students working with them) have nonetheless generated an impressive amount of scholarship. Since 1991, more than 50 peer-reviewed, AgrAbility-related articles have been published, most in academic journals. (Click here for a complete list.) Topics have included assistive technology, secondary injuries, caregiving, and many others. These articles have provided a credible source of information for professionals to design and implement evidence-based programs, and they have led to the development of many subsequent resources, like those found at Top

Expanding Ag Opportunities

The face of agriculture may change depending on the location: row crop farming in the Midwest, ranching in the Great Plains and the West, large pockets of dairy or vegetable production in certain areas. With the expanding spectrum of agriculture, enterprises could include aquaponics or hydroponics, floriculture, niche markets, beekeeping, urban agriculture, or even agritourism. What doesn’t change is AgrAbility’s commitment to providing individualized services to people with disabilities involved in any agricultural production pursuit. Top

Diverse Audiences

AgrAbility has made significant strides in reaching out to agricultural populations that have been considered underserved. Since 2014, the National AgrAbility Project has conducted nine workshops at the historically-Black 1890 land-grant institutions, one of which has received its own AgrAbility project grant, and two workshops on Native American reservations. In addition, various states work extensively with Latino farmworkers, and the National AgrAbility Project recently added a Latino Outreach Coordinator to its staff. Given the significant Amish/Old Order Anabaptist populations in several states, both national and state AgrAbility staff members have engaged in multiple networking activities with these groups. Top

Student Contributions

AgrAbility provides many opportunities for students to join the mission of assisting people with disabilities. Undergraduate engineering students have developed assistive technologies through senior capstone design projects, including some of the initial prototypes for lifts to get farmers back into their equipment. High school students have completed numerous AgrAbility-related service projects through opportunities like the Bridging Horizons Community Service Contest. Occupational therapy graduate interns hone their skills while learning more about disability in agriculture. Even university fraternities and sororities partner with AgrAbility by conducting fundraisers that have provided sizable support to many projects around the country. Top

Demonstrated, Measurable Impact

A collection of client success stories may be inspirational, but is there any hard evidence that AgrAbility really works? To help gauge its impact, AgrAbility recently conducted a 10-year study to compare the program’s impact with a no-treatment comparison group. Using the McGill Quality of Life (QOL) survey and a newly-developed Independent Living and Working (ILW) instrument, AgrAbility gathered data both from AgrAbility clients and from farmers/ranchers with disabilities who had not received services. The results: on average, the 196 AgrAbility client group participants reported: (1) increased QOL levels of 28%, while the 97 no-treatment comparison group’s QOL level fell by 4%; and (2) increased ILW levels of 30%, while the no-treatment comparison group increased by only 8%. Source: Fetsch, R. J. and P. Turk. A quantitative assessment of the effectiveness of USDA’s AgrAbility project. Disability and Health Journal. 11(2), 249-255. Top

1,200+ Years of Staff Experience

The staff members on currently funded AgrAbility projects and AgrAbility affiliate projects have more than 1,200 years of combined AgrAbility experience. Here are a few thoughts about what leads them to do what they do.

“The prevalence of disability, the high risk of injury involved in production agriculture, and the farming culture justify the need for AgrAbility. These success stories, and the farmers we have the honor to work with, are the reason we work so hard to provide a program that works for them. “Lani Carlson, Maine AgrAbility

“The people we serve — the farmers and ag workers assisted by AgrAbility PA — are like no other. Their determination to be successful and to continue working despite a disability is inspiring. And there’s a ripple effect when I talk or share with people what I do. Their eyes get big and you can see the aha moment happening.”  Kendra Martin, AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians

“I am thankful for AgrAbility because it gives people hope that they can continue working, even when others tell them they cannot continue.”  Ned Stoller, Michigan AgrAbility

“It is often hard for farmers and ranchers to open up to strangers, if I can provide even one small suggestion or tool to make the task easier or possible, then I might see a small smile or receive a strong handshake as I walk out the door. That makes it worth it. That is why I am here!” Karin Rasmussen, Kansas AgrAbility Project

“Human connections are what make AgrAbility special. When farmers have a personal challenge, we don’t want them to have to give up their lifestyle and what they love to do.” Joetta White, Tennessee AgrAbility Project

“There is nothing more satisfying than hearing thanks from a farmer who was able to continue farming because of AgrAbility.”  Randall Bagley, AgrAbility of Utah

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This publication was made possible by USDA/NIFA Special Project 2021-41590-34813.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture