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New partners will help farmers with disabilities
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Eight years, two grant renewals and 75 individuals later, the Mississippi AgrAbility Project continues to do its part to keep farmers on the farm.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service began offering AgrAbility in 1997 with two partners: the Mississippi Easter Seals Society and MSU's T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability. Soon, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services joined.
The program is now a joint effort of the MSU Extension Service, the Alcorn State University Extension Program, Methodist Rehabilitation Center, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and the T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability.
AgrAbility is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Emily Knight, Extension program assistant with the Mississippi AgrAbility Project, said the Extension Service just received its third grant to coordinate the program for another four years.
"This is a fairly unique program in that the partnerships we have bring together such things as agricultural engineering, rehabilitation and education," Knight said. "I believe the project is making a positive impact in the state as evidenced by the number of people we have served and the number of agencies that have joined together to provide services."
AgrAbility is an educational service to people with disabilities who live or work on farms. It brings agricultural clients needing help together with the people and agencies providing the help. The service is free and focuses on promoting success in agriculture for people with disabilities and their families.
"Keeping people with disabilities in their farm setting is not only good for their self-esteem, but for those who have families, it allows them to continue providing for them," Knight said. "It also benefits the community because they are able to continue providing their agricultural product or service."
The Mississippi AgrAbility Project has served clients with arthritis, amputation, vision impairments, strokes, diabetes, cancer, cardiac disease and degenerative joint disease, among other disabilities.
AgrAbility will send a person trained in rural rehabilitation to a farm to suggest modifications. The program also educates others on available rehabilitative devices, introduces farm families who share similar concerns, and assists in finding help, funding and equipment. Similar programs are available in 24 other states, Knight said.
Chris Wallace is a certified prosthetist and orthotist and director of the Prosthetic and Orthotic Department at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. Methodist Rehabilitation has three outpatient facilities in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Monroe, La., and conducts clinics throughout the year in other communities, covering most of Mississippi and northeast Louisiana.
Their involvement with AgrAbility will be mostly educational.
"For Methodist Rehabilitation, it's important that we get education through the state of Mississippi to the clients AgrAbility can serve about diabetes and related problems, and particularly as it relates to amputations," Wallace said. He said diabetes is a huge problem in Mississippi, and education is the key to its management. Diabetes and circulatory problems are the leading cause of amputations in the state.
"So few people know what's out there to help them go about their lives on a better plane," Wallace said. "If we are able to intervene early on to help them, they can increase their productivity and activities of daily living."
Through its partnership with AgrAbility, Wallace said Methodist Rehabilitation will work to get information out to those served by AgrAbility and the health-care community about what options exist to control diabetes, such as injury prevention, orthopedic footwear and prosthetics.
Anthony Reed, director of the Small Farm Outreach Project with Alcorn State University's Extension Program, is teaming with the MSU Extension Service to get information about AgrAbility to those in his extensive network who can benefit from its services.
"AgrAbility is doing wonderful things to enhance the quality of life of farmers beyond their disability," Reed said. "For a lot of people, farming is their life, even if they're not bringing in an income. A lot of people are still not aware of the services available to them, and that they can continue farming beyond their disabilities."
Reed said the ASU Extension Program works in 29 counties in southwest Mississippi. It also works throughout the state offering training that USDA requires of everyone with a U.S. Farm Service Agency loan. The Small Farm Outreach Project is a USDA-CSREES program that alerts producers to program services are available to them.
Through these networks, ASU's Extension Program will provide AgrAbility information to all their agriculture and family and consumer sciences agents so they can tell others about the program and refer cases to AgrAbility.