Laura Akgerman – Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility
Ohio AgrAbility has been called “One of the Best Kept Secrets” in agriculture, and the Ohio AgrAbility team would like to change that to “The Best-Known Resource for Farming with a Disability”. Ohio AgrAbility has a variety of services – on-farm assessments, fact sheets, educational presentations and displays. This article explains Ohio AgrAbility’s service process – from farm visit to Peer Network.
One of the missions of Ohio AgrAbility is to work with farmers with disabilities to identify ways to make changes or modifications to equipment, facilities or worksites to allow the farmer to continue farming.
The second mission of Ohio AgrAbility is to offer resources and education to all farmers on how to reduce the risks of injury and introduce modifications and technology that help farmers stay safe, and work more efficiently.
Ohio AgrAbility has a step-by-step process for working with farmers to determine if they are eligible for Ohio AgrAbility services. Our goal is always to meet the needs of Ohio’s farmers, and work with them to decide what services, assistive technology and modifications would be best for them.
Glossary - Like any industry, we have our own acronyms and key words, and forget that not everyone is familiar with our lingo.
Assessments – Report detailing farmer’s capability, disability, farm operation, job tasks, equipment/machinery, modifications, AT or services needed so that the farmer can continue working productively and safely.
AT – Assistive Technology, refers to equipment, software, and devices that are used to increase, maintain or improve independence, functional capability or productivity of an individual with a disability.
Modifications – Adjustments or attachments for machinery, equipment, buildings, worksites that make the original item easier and safer for the farmer to use. Example: adding additional steps and handrails to a tractor to make it easier to get on and off the tractor.
OOD – Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. Ohio’s Vocational Rehabilitation agency, charged with assisting Ohioans with disabilities to find or retain employment, may provide funds to purchase necessary AT and devices needed for employment.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) – services for people with disabilities that help them to overcome and manage barriers (physical, environmental, societal) to continue or return to work, often administered by a government agency.
The Ohio AgrAbility Service Process
Introduction and initial contact – Farmer or family member contacts Ohio AgrAbility (OAP) via e-mail or phone (614-292-0622). An OAP staff member will talk to you about your disability, what work you do, and how your disability is affecting your ability to do your work. We will share your information with one of the OAP Rural Rehabilitation Coordinators (RRC), who will call you and schedule a farm visit.
Farm visit – The RRC will talk to you about your work, if you can safely use your equipment and facilities, and ask how Ohio AgrAbility can help. The RRC will ask about your ability to pay for the AT and modifications needed to help you continue farming. OAP does not have funding to purchase any equipment or supplies for farmers.
The RRC will explain how Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) can work with farmers to modify equipment and facilities. They will ask questions to determine your eligibility for OOD services. You do not have to use OOD services, and there is no guarantee that you will be eligible for their services. OAP and RRCs get no financial benefits from referring you to OOD, or vendors that sell AT and modifications. RRCs will suggest specific vendors or equipment because they know the quality and value is good and want to help you find the best equipment or AT for your needs.
Recommendations and Referrals - The RRCs will make suggestions on how to modify your facility or equipment to make it safer and more accessible. Some modifications are simple – lowering or raising a workbench to reduce strain on your back and shoulders while you work, or upgrading your tractor seat with an air ride or padded seat to ease the strain and pain from riding the tractor for hours every day. A common upgrade to equipment is to add handrails and additional steps so it is easier and safer to get on and off the tractor or other equipment. They may also suggest upgrades to the lighting in your barn and worksite, or tilt tables and chutes to manage your animals and make treating them safer for the farmer and the animal.
Rural Rehabilitation Coordinators work with the farmer, and OOD (if the farmer is an OOD client) to design and develop an individualized work, modifications and Assistive Technology plan for the farmer, making sure new equipment and AT are a good match for the farmer and the work environment.
Plan Implementation – If the farmer wants to implement the RRCs recommendations for modifications or AT, the RRCs will assist with looking at items and getting price quotes. When the equipment is delivered RRCs will usually be on hand to ensure that the correct equipment has been delivered and the farmer knows how to use it safely. The RRCs continue to work with farmers to make sure the new equipment and modifications are meeting the farmer’s needs, and to work with the farmer to solve problems and maintain productivity and success.
Peer Network – OAP has a strong Peer-to-Peer Network of farmers and their families who have worked with OAP throughout the years. The Peers meet a few times a year for workshops and networking. OAP staff introduces new AT and modifications, shares resources from OSU Extension, and talks about safety on the farm. Peers have time to talk to one another and build friendships and connections with other farmers from across the state.
OAP holds a Peer to Peer meeting at the Farm Science Review, you are welcome to come to the OAP tent to attend the meeting, and meet the Peers and OAP staff (meeting time, date and agenda will be announced in the August and September OAP in Actions columns).
Ohio AgrAbility in Action’s June column will review website resources, and educational workshops available from Ohio AgrAbility.
For more information, please contact Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility and OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, at Akgerman.firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-292-0622.