Barriers and Opportunities in Returning to Work

The most significant barriers that many individuals with disabilities face when attempting to return to work in production agriculture are the attitudes of those in their family and on the rehabilitation team. The general perception held by many rehabilitation professionals that there has to be something easier, safer, and more profitable than farming or ranching has proven to be a significant hurdle for many farmers and ranchers involved in the vocational rehabilitation process. Family members may also discourage return to farming or ranching due to fear of another injury or the uncertainty of success. On the other hand, a supportive family and rehabilitation team have been shown to be important indicators of a successful transition back to farming or ranching following a disabling injury or illness.

The economics associated with production agriculture has also proven to be a critical factor in determining whether a person can successfully return to the farm or ranch. If there is substantial long-term indebtedness, returning to agriculture may be very difficult, especially if there are substantial medical and rehabilitation expenses. A disproportionate number of farm and ranch families are uninsured or underinsured, which can be catastrophic to the business following a serious injury or disease, especially if the medical bills become personal liabilities (9).

The lack of alternative employment opportunities in most rural communities often leaves the farmer or rancher with few choices concerning potential career changes. Some have moved into related occupations following a disability that have allowed them to use their knowledge of agriculture to remain employed. In some cases such career shifts have resulted in substantially better income and health care benefits, which are especially important to a person with a disability. The potential for succeeding in agricultural production following the acquisition of a disability is extremely low if the individual was not actively engaged in some agricultural enterprise prior to the disability.

In most cases, however, the message from the farmer or rancher following a disabling injury or illness is clear: his or her goal is to return to the farm or ranch and be productive. In some cases, work-site modifications are needed, while in other cases individuals explore alternative agricultural enterprises that better suit their limitations.

Other barriers regularly identified during the rehabilitation process include:

1. Lack of local specialized health care and rehabilitation services

2. Limited educational opportunities that would provide alternative career training

3. Nonexistent public or accessible transportation that allows independent access to needed services

4. Lack of access to information on appropriate and affordable forms of assistive technology that could be used to accommodate disability within agricultural workplaces

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