Michigan AgrAbility provides services to farmers with disabilities, illnesses or aging conditions so they can continue the occupation and lifestyle they love. We research and develop useful farming tools, equipment and methods that enable farmers to work longer and feel better. Michigan AgrAbility, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant, is a joint partnership between Michigan State University Extension (MSU Extension) and Easter Seals Michigan. We work closely with Michigan Rehabilitation Services (State of Michigan Vocational Rehabilitation Agency) and network of private funding organizations to provide these services.
It is estimated that there are over 1,900 farm workers per year in the state of Michigan who need our services. According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture there were 52,194 farms in Michigan that utilize approximately 215,000 workers (owner/operators, hired workers and family members). The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released May 2013 states there is on average 9.0 injuries for every 1000 adults involved in farming operations. This would equate to 1,935 farm related injuries every year. Added to these injuries are the common diseases such as arthritis, cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and aging conditions. This further illustrates the great need in the state of Michigan for services to support farmers and their families dealing with injuries, illnesses and disabling conditions.
Disabilities create challenges in life. For Michigan’s farmers and farm workers, disabilities and chronic health problems can transform an active, independent lifestyle to one of uncertainty, dependence, and adaptation. In addition to the emotional and physical challenges of adapting to a disability or serious health condition, farm families also face financial challenges. Many ask, “How can we continue farming?” and expect that they will have to “rethink” their lifestyles and their careers.
Engineering/rehabilitation services, research/development and assistive technology costs are very high, and outside the ability of many farmers to self-pay. The net result is that Michigan farmers continue working in severe pain, overstressing their bodies, using unsuitable tools and equipment, sustaining secondary injury, and endangering their future health. For a farmer with a disability to be retrained and find alternative employment in a rural community is very difficult, if not impossible. The natural progression is that farmer’s health continues to degrade until he is forced to retire or become unemployed. We provide critical services because medical insurance and disability insurance plans often do not cover the costs of rehabilitation services at the farm work site or assistive technology to enable a farmer to continue working.