Throughout this episode, you might hear the mention of “VR” – this stands for vocational rehabilitation. VR is rehab assistance for individuals with mental or physical disabilities, to help them with employment and to increase their independence.
To access AgrAbility’s assistive technology database, visit their digital toolbox (click on “view by category” or “search” to start exploring).
Find out if your state has an AgrAbility project or affiliate, by using this interactive map.
Read National AgrAbility’s 30 Years of Impact report to see highlights of their accomplishments plus 13 stories from individuals whom they helped!
If you are interested in attending, check out the 2023 AgrAbility National Training Workshop that’s taking place March 20-23 in Spokane, Washington.
For more information on RESNA (the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America), visit the RESNA website.
If you are interested in QPR training, visit: https://www.agrisafe.org/QPR/
Sign up for the AgriSafe newsletter: https://www.agrisafe.org/newsletter/
View upcoming webinars: https://www.agrisafe.org/events/
Script Arranged by Laura Siegel
Hosted by Carey Portell
Edited by Joel Sharpton
Special Guests: Paul Jones
Welcome to the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast from AgriSafe Network. At AgriSafe, we work to protect the people that feed the world by supporting the health and safety professionals, ensuring access to preventative services for farm families and the agriculture community. Before we dive into this episode, join us for this quick ad.Carey:
Over the last decade, farmers and farm families have experienced increasing pressures, resulting in high levels of stress, mental health and suicide. Farmers and farm workers feel more comfortable talking to friends and family when dealing with mental stress. But when someone expresses despair, hopelessness or thoughts of suicide, that conversation can create fear and insecurity at a time when someone needs you the most. According to the American Farm Bureau 2022 survey, farming communities recognize that stigma remains a factor in seeking mental health care. AgriSafe is meeting the needs of communities to better respond to mental health crisis through agricultural community QPR. QPR training teaches laypeople and professionals to recognize and respond to mental health crisis using the approach of question, persuade and refer. Hear a farmer's story. Learn about the unique challenges facing farmers that lead to stress, depression and suicide. Practice communication with agricultural examples and learn about the resources available to help those in crisis. If you are interested in training, go to www.agrisafe.org/QPR. Join AgriSafe in a movement to decrease stigma and instill hope for the people that feed the world.Carey:
All right, Welcome back to the Talking Total Farmer Health Podcast. Today we have a wonderful guest, Mr. Paul Jones. He is from Purdue University and with National AgrAbility. So welcome, Paul.Paul:
Well, thanks, Carey. It's good to be here.Carey:
All right. Let's go ahead and start and have you just introduce yourself. Give us a little bit about your background and how you got involved with Purdue and with Ability.Paul:
I manage the National AgrAbility Project at Purdue University, and I've been with the program for about 25 years. Started with agricultural safety at Purdue about 25 years ago, and prior to that I worked more in the Social Services agency.Carey:
I just learned a lot about you that I didn't know before. That's interesting. Now I am very familiar with AgrAbility, but for those who aren't, who are just listening to this podcast for the first time, can you go ahead and explain what is AgrAbility? What does it do? What's the meaning behind it? All of that.Paul:
So AgrAbility’s main focus is on helping people in agriculture that have some kind of disability. It's a grant program that's sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture. And currently there is enough funding for 21 projects around the country, state projects. So it's a competitive grant process, and the grant holder has to be a land grant university. So in Indiana, that's Purdue. In Missouri, it's University of Missouri, Ohio State, University of Illinois, those types of universities. And they have to partner with at least one nonprofit disability services organization. That's part of the grant requirement. And then there's one National AgrAbility Project. And again, that's here at Purdue also. And our main jobs are either to support the state projects through education, training, resource development or to provide at least some assistance to people that live in states that do not have accountability projects.Carey:
Yeah. And I'm a huge advocate that I feel like every state should be able to have AgrAbility. I wish I was independently wealthy so I could just fund them myself. Now I'm a client of AgrAbility and I was very surprised by what AgrAbility considers a disability can. Can you give our listeners a little bit of an idea of what an actual disability to AgrAbility means?Paul:
The term disability can be a little confusing because there are different definitions of disability and there are a lot of different preconceived notions that people have about what a disability could be. So, a more accurate term probably is the term functional limitation, which essentially means any kind of impairment that keeps somebody from doing what they want to do or need to do. So if you saw AgrAbility at a farm show or a conference and you saw that we worked with people with disabilities in agriculture, you might think, well, that doesn't really apply to me because I, I just have arthritis, you know, it's so bad that I can't climb up in my tractor anymore, but I'm really not somebody with a disability. And the reality is we deal with a lot of people that have issues like arthritis or back problems or other joint problems. So we really try to embrace the entire spectrum of what could be considered a disability or a functional limitation. That might be something that is obvious, like a spinal cord injury or an amputation. It could be something that's less obvious, like arthritis. It could be a sensory problem, like hearing or vision. It might be something related to brain functioning like a stroke traumatic brain injury. It could also be even a mental or behavioral health issue. For example, if somebody has post traumatic stress disorder or is dealing with other stress issues, that's that's definitely something that we would assist with. And I think it's important to point out that our AgrAbility staff cannot be experts in in all these areas. So I think the thing we have to be most expert about is referring people and networking with other organizations that can address those things more specifically. Organizations that do have experts in all those areas. So we really, again, try to embrace the entire continuum of what might be considered a disability.Carey:
Yeah, you sure do, because I was just astounded with everything that you guys included. And I feel like I can attest that you guys are phenomenal with working with other organizations for the benefit of your clients. Now, when you say the farmer has a disability, how do you actually assess their condition or the situation that they're in?Paul:
They're really two different tracks for how we would assess somebody that contacts us or that we hear about. One would be if you have an AgrAbility project in your state and again, there are 21 funded projects. There are also several states that have formally funded projects that don't have USDA funding right now, but are continuing to provide some services. So if you live in one of those states, we would get you in contact with the AgrAbility staff there and they would arrange a time for for them to come out, visit your farm or ranch or whatever your operation is. Greenhouse. It might be an agritourism enterprise, anything that's really somehow related to agriculture. So we would sit down, talk with you, find out what the issues are, and then usually take a tour around and see what types of equipment are on the farm, what needs to be accessed, what kinds of tasks might be modified, and just talk about the process. One of the things that's important to know about our grant is that USDA does not allow us to directly provide equipment to people or directly provide money to people. So we normally would get you in touch with your state vocational rehabilitation program.Paul:
And there's one of those in every state and every territory in the US. And their job is to help people with disabilities to either gain or maintain employment. And they can provide that funding and that equipment that's necessary to get you the technologies that you know you might need to continue farming. Now, I should say that it's not a necessarily a quick process, not necessarily an easy process. In some cases, the state vocational rehabilitation systems also have limited funding. There's sometimes an order of selection that means the people with the most severe disabilities are probably going to get served first. It doesn't mean you would not be in that category, but you have to take that into consideration when you're dealing with with agencies like that. So your your ability staff would help with VR, they'd help you get in contact with other agencies that might be able to help. Like I mentioned before, if you need a referral to perhaps somebody that help with stress or rehabilitation, like occupational therapists or physical therapists, then again, our networking system helps you get in touch with the people that you need to to be able to get back to doing what you need to do.Carey:
Now, you had mentioned briefly that sometimes the farmer rancher needs a piece of equipment or a product to help them with their their process for that mobility. What if an off the shelf product is not compatible with their disability? What do you do then?Paul:
So there are a wide variety of options for getting technologies and modifying them. We know that farmers themselves are often very resourceful and very innovative. Sometimes they will modify equipment to make it work for them. One concern about that is it's not always the safest solution. And so part of what agribusiness does is provide input in terms of how to make things safe. Some agribusinesses staff themselves are able to do some modifications. We do have some engineers in the state projects, some certified rehabilitation professionals that work with the state projects. But again, referring people in our network is important, so we might get you in touch with a local machine shop depending on what type of equipment we're talking about. In that case, it could be adding extra steps to a tractor or combine or putting hand controls on a machine. Your local machine shops might would be able to help with something like that. And then there are more specialized assistive technology providers. I think particularly about wheelchair providers, they have specialists that can work with seating modifications, that type of thing. Electronic assistive technology that you might be working with, there's probably a specialist that would would work with that. It's also important, I think, to know that there is what's known as an Assistive Technology Act project and every state, and that's different than ability. It's funded by the US Department of Education, I believe.Paul:
And so they specialize in assistive technology. They've got a loan library. They've got specialists who might be able to help with modifications. So that's an important resource. And then one other organization I want to mention is RESNA. That's the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. And they certify assistive technology professionals, and they also provide listings of those professionals that they've certified. So we could always get you in touch with one of those if that would be appropriate. And the final thing I want to mention about assistive technology is that we do have a database called the Toolbox that's on our website and that website’s AgrAbility.org. , And the toolbox has about 1800 different products in it right now. So if what you've got or what you need is not something that you have or you're not sure is going to be the best thing for you, I would recommend looking in that assistive technology database. And again, we've got different categories for things like tractors, livestock handling shops, shop tools, assistive technology for outdoor mobility, even gardening and wood lots, all kinds of things. So I would recommend looking at that, seeing what's available. We don't sell things directly from that, but we get you in touch again with the people that can provide those types of devices.Carey:
Everything that you just stated shows how AgrAbility goes that extra step for their clients because every disability is unique like one one person's disability, even though it may be the same, disability is never going to be the same effect on another person. And you do absolutely everything in your power to find what's going to help that client. It just I mean, I just absolutely love that part about AgrAbility. Now, you talked earlier a little bit about sometimes the case takes a little bit longer or shorter to get through. Now, once you close their case, that meaning once you've given them the help that they need to get through at that time, can the producer still have contact with AgrAbility after their case is closed?Paul:
Yeah. The idea of closing a case is, well, it's a little foreign to us in Indiana because we never close our cases. We just say goodbye for now and let us know if you need anything else. Closing a case is kind of a technical term because because of our evaluation process, they need a starting date and an ending date, and they do some evaluation of what happens between those two periods. But really, it's, you know, at any time anybody that's worked with AgrAbility should feel free to call back. And you can always get information if there's a need to, you know, technically open the case again, that's usually not a problem. So I don't think people should feel like, you know, they're somehow they've gotten the services that they're entitled to and and that's it. Now, getting re opened with VR, maybe a little a little more complicated. But that's not a that's not an impossibility either. You know, if your condition changes, some people have disabilities, like I think of people with multiple sclerosis or other kind of disabling diseases that are progressive and that changes over time and that means your needs will change over time. So yeah, if things change, if your farming operation changes, maybe you decided to switch from livestock production to just focusing on crops. Well, that may need different technologies. So getting back with AgrAbility is is definitely something you should do and then reevaluate, reevaluating as to whether opening a case with VR again would be something to think about.Carey:
Yeah, you hit exactly on what I was thinking about. If they have a progressive disease or disability, things are always going to change. Now, you have shared so much of your knowledge and I mean just a plethora of resources that AgrAbility has for clients. How do you feel that the client having the correct knowledge and or the special equipment, how does that decrease the stress for that farmer rancher?Paul:
Well, the idea of stress and when you're talking about stability, I think really kind of changes a little bit in terms of where somebody's at with the whole issue of disability. I think for newly injured people, that stress level can be huge. And I think there's a gap of information there. I think there's an unknown. Nobody really plans for disabilities, you know, that are going to impair what you've been doing all your life, even things like walking or using your hands or using your joints or your mind. Nobody really plans for that. So I think when somebody newly injured, there's a real, you know, almost a crisis time. And that's I think when AgrAbility can step in, let people know there is hope, there is there are options, there's equipment, there are social services. I mean, how many people would think about the vocational rehabilitation system until you really need it? But when you when you need it, you may not know about it. So I think that's why AgrAbility is really important in terms of being that bridge, you know, to get people from where they're at, especially if they're newly injured to to a place where they have hope, they have a plan for for moving forward. And then, like I said, that may change over time. I think, you know, dealing with disability is going to be a long-term process.Paul:
There are things you're going to struggle with. There are things you're going to not know about. So again, having somebody to help you connect the dots, help you get into that network where you're getting the services you need through the whole span, through the whole time you're dealing with issues. I think that's important. And again, having somebody there, it could be AgrAbility, it could be somebody from a nonprofit organization. But again, knowing who's available, knowing what's available, you know, without that, I think your stress level is definitely going to be increased. And they're talking about stress. There are other issues besides disability that cause far more stress. There's just plain, you know, issues like weather and prices and all kinds of issues. So we can, like I said before, get people in touch with people that can help just with those types of issues. It might be a behavioral health provider. It might be your extension agent. Maybe you didn't realize that they've got people that can help with your business plan or, you know, did you know that Farm Service Agency can help with all these different types of financial issues? AgrAbility can can help you get in touch with those kinds of people and help you know, what's available to help decrease those types of stresses too.Carey:
There's two words that really hit me when you were speaking that I feel like should be AgrAbility’s slogan and that's hope and options. Because when you have some kind of challenge that you just cannot figure out yourself, it just depletes you and you don't feel like you have either one of those things. And when AgrAbility for me, when when you guys came in and gave my assessment, those two things immediately popped up because I was thinking I was done. There was nothing else I can do. And I couldn't my mind couldn't think with my new body. It just kept thinking with my old body and you guys came in and gave me hope that, hey, I can still work on a farm. And you gave me the options of, well, these are your options, these are what you can do, and we'll show you how to do that. And I can just tell you, like it was just I mean, just a sigh of relief. Like there's people out there who understand what I'm going through and they actually can give me the knowledge and the resources to continue doing this. So I feel like what you guys offer is not just this physical thing. It's a mental and emotional relief as well.Paul:
Yeah, like I say, I mean, can definitely be overwhelming, especially for somebody that's new to the whole disability realm. And I think another thing we do is help people keep from having to reinvent the wheel, because I think, like you said, you know, you may think I'm the only person that's ever dealt with this. I'm the only person that's ever tried to get in a tractor when I can't use my legs anymore or something like that. But we've you know, we've dealt with it hundreds of times. So we can get you involved with the technologies, we can get involved with other people. There's peer support, help in many states. And I'll just put in a little plug right now for our national training workshop that's held every year. Next year is going to be in Spokane, Washington in March. We do have some farmer travel stipends, so if you wanted to participate, learn more and get in touch with other people. People that have been through some of the same things, that might be a good option for you.Carey:
That sounds fantastic. And I love that you're putting that out there for our farmers and ranchers. Before we end, is there anything else that you would like to add that you feel is really important that I didn't touch on?Paul:
I think you've covered a lot. I mean, you've had personal experience with the program. I think having people like you out there that can advocate for not only a bill itself, but for people that need AgrAbility or other services is really important. We just did a 30-year summary of the program that's called AgrAbility: 30 Years of Impact, and that's on our website. And it shares a lot of stories, not not just yours. You are in that Carey, but there are a lot of other stories of people. And so if you need a little encouragement or you need some examples, I would encourage people to look at that too.Carey:
Wonderful. We cannot thank you enough for sharing your knowledge with us, our resources, and volunteering to be on our podcast. Thank you everyone for listening to the Talking Total Farmer Health Podcast. And thank you, Mr. Paul Jones, for being our guest.Paul:
Thank you, Carey.Carey:
All right, everybody, that’s all for today. Thank you again for tuning in to another episode. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast to hear more from AgriSafe on the health and safety issues impacting agricultural workers. If you’d like to suggest topics, or have a story you’d like to share, contact us by email at email@example.com, and title your email “TTFH Podcast.” To see more from AgriSafe, including webinars and our newsletter, visit www.agrisafe.org. This episode was created by AgriSafe Network. Script arranged by Laura Siegel, hosted by Carey Portell, edited by Joel Sharpton, with special guest Paul Jones.