Andrew Westfall column sig

Farming ranks as one of the most hazardous occupations in the nation, with one of the highest disabling injury rates of any industry.

Farm-related injuries affect around 1 in 9 Indiana families annually, and approximately 19 percent of active farm operators can no longer perform essential tasks due to a disability.

To get those with disabilities back on the farm and being productive, various partners including Purdue University and the USDA formed Indiana AgrAbility. Through education and assistance, AgrAbility helps to eliminate (or at least minimize) obstacles that inhibit success in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations.

While the term “disability” often brings to mind conditions such as spinal cord injuries and amputations, AgrAbility addresses not only these but also many other conditions, such as arthritis, back impairments and behavioral health issues.

The seeds of AgrAbility were sewn in 1979 when a farmer with severe disabilities asked Purdue’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering for help with modifying his tractor so he could continue farming. His request ultimately led to the establishment of the Breaking New Ground (BNG) Resource Center, now an internationally recognized source of information on assistive technology for agricultural worksites.

Among other things, AgrAbility can provide worksite assessments, recommendations for home modifications, and countless educational resource materials as well as referrals to other sources of information and assistance and advocacy when needed.

While AgrAbility cannot provide direct funding for providing equipment or modifications, they can help customers work Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services, a state agency that empowers individuals with disabilities, particularly individuals with significant disabilities, to achieve high quality employment.

AgrAbility also provides specialized services to veterans, whether they are beginning farmers or experienced ones. Assistance may include educational opportunities, one-on-one mentoring, resources and referrals to other agencies.

If you are working in the agriculture industry with a disability, or a veteran who is thinking about farming, I encourage you to reach out to AgrAbility at 1-800-825-4264 or on the web at https://engineering.purdue.edu/~bng/index.php.

For further information on services that can provided, contact the Purdue Extension Office of White County at 219-984-5115 or email me at awestfal@purdue.edu.