Availability of Disability Related Resources

Prior to the 1980s few published reports or resources were available to agricultural workers or rehabilitation professionals for solving disability-related problems within farm or ranch settings. The one well-documented exception was the Vermont Farm Family and Rural Rehabilitation Program that was established in 1967 as a cooperative effort between the Vermont Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the University of Vermont extension service. Few forms of rehabilitation or assistive technology appropriate for farmers or ranchers had been documented, and little effort had been made to define the unique needs of individuals with severe disabilities who desired to remain involved in production agriculture in spite of their limitations. Over the past two decades, several initiatives were undertaken to address this void of knowledge and skills within the field of vocational rehabilitation (15). These initiatives included:

1. The establishment in 1979 of Purdue University's Breaking New Ground

(BNG) Resource Center and Outreach Program and the subsequent preparation of various resource materials including four editions of

Agricultural Tools, Equipment, Machinery, and Buildings for Farmers and Ranchers with Physical Disabilities. This program was initially supported by Deere and Company and by the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (16).

2. Technical material generated by the two international conferences in 1979 and 1982 on rural rehabilitation technologies hosted by the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. These were the first events that were designed to focus attention on the unique assistive technology needs of rural residents with disabilities.

3. Service delivery experience gained by the FaRM Program in Iowa and the Breaking New Ground Outreach program in Indiana, both established in the mid-1980s. These programs used a community-based approach to the delivery of rehabilitation technology services to rural and farm families and became models for the establishment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's AgrAbility Program (14).

4. The establishment in 1985 of the Rural Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at the University of Montana, Missoula by the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research. This center has provided researchers the opportunity to identify and respond to long-term research priorities on issues related to rural rehabilitation.

5. The establishment of Life Essentials of Lafayette, Indiana, in the late 1980s. Life Essentials was one of the first manufacturers to design, fabricate, and market assistive technology specifically for use by farmers and ranchers with disabilities. One example is a tractor-mounted lift designed to enable farmers with severe mobility impairments to gain access to the operator's seat.

6. Passage of the 1990 Farm Bill that established the USDA AgrAbility Program. This program began providing funds through land grant universities to support technical assistance training and information dissemination activities for farmers and ranchers through agreements between the Cooperative Extension Services in selected states and nonprofit disability organizations such as Easter Seal affiliates and centers for independent living. At present 24 funded projects serve farmers and ranchers with disabilities in 26 states.

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