Published on 11/20/09

Farm breaks new ground to help disabled Georgia farmers

By Brad Haire

Farmers with physical disabilities are often a little too self-reliant to ask for help or don't know where to find it. But help is out there. Soon, they’ll have an entire farm dedicated to equipment and training especially designed to help them farm more comfortably.

The groundbreaking for the AgrAbility Farm took place Nov. 18 at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences campus in Tifton, Ga.

Once complete, it will be open to the public and available for school groups to visit and for health care and rehabilitation professionals to attend trainings targeted to help disabled agricultural workers. The farm will be virtually available for people to see and interact with on-line, too.

“The goal for this farm is for it to become a place where farmers with disabilities can come, scheduled or unscheduled, to try equipment or tools that may be of interest to them or that they may not even know about to improve their ability to farm,” said Glen Rains, Georgia’s AgrAbility director.

“It will be unlike any other facility of its kind. From a lift that can aid someone in a wheelchair to get in the tractor, to hand controls that can operate an all-terrain vehicle, there will be a wide variety of displays for people to see,” said Becky Brightwell, AgrAbility program manager in Georgia.

Farming is a dangerous occupation. According to the Department of Labor, in Georgia, it is estimated that as many as 35,000 individuals living in an agricultural household have a disability.

AgrAbility is a national, free program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is charged to promote independence for members of the agricultural community who have disabilities. In Georgia, UGA Cooperative Extension and the Institute on Human Development and Disability in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences jointly manage the program.

"We'd like for farming to stay a vocation for people as much as possible," Rains said. "This program is one way of keeping farmers farming who don't want to be rehabilitated into another job. We want to help them do it."

The program is a service that can link someone in Georgia to a chain of Cooperative Extension educators, disability experts, rural living professionals and volunteers across the state and the country, he said.

Anyone who works or wants to work in agriculture and has a physical, cognitive or illness-related disability is eligible. This includes many things like amputations, arthritis, cancer, heart problems, diabetes or mental illness.

To learn more about AgrAbility and the farm, visit the Web site

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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