Disability in Agriculture

William E. Field and Paul Jones

Key words: prosthesis, return-to-work, rehabilitation, alternative employment, assistive technology

There are few occupations in which the evidence of disabling injuries is more apparent than agriculture. A casual assessment of any group of farm or ranch workers will often detect missing digits and limbs, impaired mobility, or a wide range of scars from accidents with both animals and machines. In fact, the common name used for many years for the Dorrance hook, an upper limb prosthetic device, was the farmer's hook. Over a 25-year period in Indiana beginning in the late 1940s, more than 100 farmers per year lost one or more upper extremities due to entanglements in corn pickers. The widespread prevalence of disability within the agricultural community has historically provided support for an unfounded assumption that since many in this population of workers with disabilities continued to be productive, they generally had few if any special needs. Consequently, many of the benefits associated with recent advance in rehabilitation practices and assistive technology have been slow in being realized by many of these people.

Over the past two decades, momentum has grown for ensuring that the rehabilitation needs of rural people, including farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers with serious disabilities, are being met at a comparable level of enthusiasm, efficiency, expertise, and resources as is found in most urban settings. The disparities, however, are still substantial, and there is still much to be done to assist rural and agricultural communities in becoming more inclusive and accommodating of those with disabilities.

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