This piece was made possible as part of a grant from the Julia Child Foundation
AgrAbility supports farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities in gaining success in rural America.
Born from the 1990 Farm Bill with 20 funded AgrAbility affiliates across the United States, the program provides education, networking, and direct services to agricultural workers with disabilities. Some of the disabilities that AgrAbility addresses include arthritis, cerebral palsy, back impairments, and visual impairments.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 19 percent of farmers in the United States live with a disability. These farmers often face barriers, including a lack of financial resources to pay for accommodations, a shortage of professionals trained to help farmers living with disabilities, and stigma from other farmers. Those in rural areas may find even fewer resources and have trouble accessing transportation, educational programs, and specialized health care.
“Having done this work for nearly 40 years, I still see farmers with disabilities struggling with feeling included or being accepted as who they are,” William E. Field, National AgrAbility Project Director, tells Food Tank.
With farmers already struggling with low commodity prices, severe weather, and long hours, AgrAbility wants to ensure no added barriers for farmers with disabilities.
To keep farmers with disabilities updated on emerging agricultural technologies, AgrAbility provides them with information about assistive technology. Examples of assistive technology include modified machinery for those who cannot independently climb on traditional tractors and modified farm equipment that is wheelchair accessible.
When farmers and ranchers with disabilities first consult AgrAbility, “it is a new adventure that could be made easier with the appropriate information and application of assistive technology,” advises Field.
For farmers unable to afford this modified equipment, some AgrAbility programs partner with local organizations that help farmers apply for additional funding.
AgrAbility also believes for farmers with disabilities to be successful in their work, they need access to training and moral support. The program offers workplace and home assessments, job coaching, skill development, and, most importantly, says Field “encouragement.”
But as COVID-19 impacts farmers across the country, Field acknowledges that the pandemic is presenting challenges for AgrAbility and the farmers who rely on their resources.
“COVID-19 has inhibited one of the most powerful tools AgrAbility has to enhance the quality of life of our clientele, that is, personal-on-site visits and face-to-face gatherings,” Field tells Food Tank.
Like many organizations that are pivoting due to COVID-19, AgrAbility is currently hosting virtual events and webinars. They are also investing in adding more information to their website for farmers to access.
“Regardless of COVID-19, our mission will remain the same – enhancing the success of farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers, and their families impacted by disabilities,” says Field.
Photo courtesy of Lance Cheung, U.S. Department of Agriculture.