AgrAbility helps farmers continue farming after injury

Jeff Austin
Catie Noyes met Jeff Austin under the AgrAbility tent at Farm Science Review in 2017, where he was sharing how he ended up paralyzed from the waist down after having stage 4 cancer in 2013. Since then, he has worked with AgrAbility and Life Essentials to slowly regain his independence, including getting this Action Track Chair in the fall of 2016, that allows him to work on equipment. (Catie Noyes photo)

COLUMBUS — As you get older, it can be tougher to hop on or off a tractor or withstand the constant bumps that come with driving over uneven turf. Done over and over, twisting, lifting, bending, kneeling, it can all become challenging. 

Young farmers doing repetitive tasks might also feel the toll. 

“No matter what your age, farming is hard work, and it can hurt. If you’re a little older, it can really hurt,” said Laura Akgerman, disability services coordinator for Ohio State University Extension’s Ohio AgrAbility program. 

The program is part of a national effort through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that promotes independence for people working in agriculture who want to continue farming after experiencing a disabling condition. 

Offers free help

Ohio AgrAbility offers free on-site assessments for people with a disability, to help determine what assistive technology they might need. 

Ohio AgrAbility will present various talks at Farm Science Review Sept. 18-20 about ways to help people keep farming or gardening despite physical challenges that come with aging, injuries or repetitive strenuous work. 

Agribusiness accessibility

New this year is a presentation on designing accessible agritourism opportunities such as pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and holiday tree farms. Any tourist activity on a farm, even if it’s just offered a few weeks or months a year, must be in sync with the federal accessibility/disability laws. 

Having a handicapped bathroom is an example. Less obvious is the need for all walking paths to be easy for someone with a wheelchair, limited mobility or a bad back, to navigate. 

“It doesn’t just benefit a person in a wheelchair, it’s for the grandmother with a bad hip, the parent with a stroller, and the child learning to walk,” Akgerman said. 

“You’re creating an environment that’s more welcoming and safer for everyone.” 

Learn more

The Designing Accessible AgriTourism talk will be Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. in the Farm Science Review’s Small Farm Center Tent at Beef Street and Corn Avenue. 

Other presentations offered by Ohio AgrAbility at Farm Science Review will include: 

“Modifying a Vehicle for Mobility and Independence,” Sept. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Ohio AgrAbility tent on Land Avenue between Market and Kottman streets. 

“Gardening As We Age – It Doesn’t Have to Hurt,” Sept. 18 and Sept. 20 at 11 a.m. in Utzinger Memorial Garden. 

“Farm and Equipment Modification” on Sept. 18 and Sept. 20 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Ohio AgrAbility tent. 

“Peer to Peer Networking” 1 p.m. daily in the Ohio AgrAbility tent.

Ohio AgrAbility is provided through OSU Extension in partnership with Easterseals Greater Cincinnati. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES.

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