Randall Bagley loves his job. He meets with disabled farmers and ranchers and their families and identifies assistive technology and modifications that can help them remain productive, and in their chosen profession: agriculture. Bagley is the Program Coordinator for AgrAbility of Utah, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.
The program is focused on breaking down barriers and helping farmers and ranchers facing limitations due to injury, illness, or disability remain in agriculture.
Bagley will go to the farm or ranch, meet with the producer and family members, conduct an on-site assessment, and identify solutions tailored to their individual needs. Most, if not all, of this work is done at no charge to those he helps.
“I love my job, I enjoy being able to help people with disabilities,” said Bagley, who spent several years working at the Cache Employment and Training Center. “Some of this is new to me, but I still enjoy doing it.”
AgrAbility of Utah is a partnership between Utah State University Extension and Allies with Families, a non-profit disability organization. “Partnerships with nonprofits are key to making a program like this work,” Bagley said. “We are one of only 22 states that have an AgrAbility program.”
The program helps farmers with many conditions, including: arthritis, spinal cord injuries/paralysis, back impairments, amputations, brain injuries, visual impairments, hearing impairments, disabling diseases, cerebral palsy, respiratory impairments, and head injuries.
“AgrAbilility helps existing farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers facing limitations remain in agriculture.” Bagley said. “Due to limitations in the authorizing legislation, one must already be a farmer, rancher, or agricultural worker to receive our services.”
“AgrAbility staff conduct an on-site farm assessment to determine how AgrAbility can best help someone,” he said. “When AgrAbility staff visit with impacted farmers, ranchers or family members, they analyze the situation, identify appropriate assistive technology, and develop an individualized plan to address the specific issues faced by the producer.”
It could be something complex, such as modifying the operation to better meet the limitations faced by the producer, or as simple as modifying a hand shovel to keep someone from aggravating an injured back. Other examples of assistive technology include a lift for a wheelchair-bound farmer to help him access and operate a tractor, or, for farmers that have difficulties getting around the farm, a side-by-side or a utility vehicle may be the answer.
In some cases, the Utah Center for Assistive Technology and USU’s Assistive Technology program may get involved by making assistive technology. Both of them can build or modify equipment. It could be putting extra steps on a tractor to help a client get up into and operate it, or adding a handle to grab to make it easier to get into the tractor seat.
Another part of Bagley’s work is making the public aware of what the organization can do for people.
“I just got back from the Utah Wool Growers Association conference, where I talked about our program,” Bagley said. “We have other agriculture trade shows and conventions to visit in the future.”
Other AgrAbility staff include two Resource Facilitators that work out of their homes, one in Antimony and the other in Gunnison, and an Outreach Specialist based in Genola.
AgrAbility is a federally-funded program which came into existence through the 1990 Farm Bill. The Utah program has been in existence for 23 years, first receiving funding in 1996.