Friday, July 31, 2009

USDA grant in Idaho will keep disabled farmers working

From Capital Press:

The USDA has awarded $199,000 to the University of Idaho-Moscow for the Idaho AgrAbility Project, designed to help farmers and farm family members with disabilities.

Nationwide, the USDA awarded $4.1 million in grants to 22 states. The AgrAbility program helps thousands of disabled people overcome barriers to continuing their chosen professions in agriculture, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the grants on July 23.

"Given the right resources, farmers with disabilities can run productive and profitable farms," Vilsack said. "The AgrAbility program can provide the resources and tools producers need to enhance their quality of life and be successful."

USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service awards the funds to land-grant universities that work with nonprofit disability organizations.

Projects include educating professionals on how to assist those with disabilities and directly training disabled agricultural workers.

The program has improved customers' financial stability, access to life activities and the ability of states and regions to deliver timely services to those with disabilities.

The Idaho AgrAbility Project began in 1992. Previously, the AgrAbility partnership was directed by United Cerebral Palsy of Idaho. In January, it came under the direction of the Idaho Center for Assistive Technology in an effort to reach more producers.

"We thought we were losing too many people because they thought it was just for people with cerebral palsy," said Robert Renteria, public relations specialist for the Idaho Center for Assistive Technology in Boise.

The project assists farmers and their family members with any type of disability.

Disabilities do no have to be a result of an ag-related accident, he said.

"It can be from a hunting accident, auto accident, walking outside and slipping on ice, arthritis, back pain, a degenerative disease," Renteria said.

The Idaho AgrAbility Project includes three partners: the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension System, the Idaho Assistive Technology Project, both in Moscow, and the Idaho Center for Assistive Technology in Boise.

"What we're really trying to do is help find a way to run an operation to provide independence and prevent secondary injuries," Renteria said. "We'd really like to keep as many people in ag working as independently as possible."

The AgrAbility Project will do a confidential on-site assessment, bringing in the Idaho State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to see if the person qualifies for its programs and put people in touch with suppliers of disability products and equipment modifications.

The project provides services, but does not provide money or products.

Congress authorized the AgrAbility Project in the 1990 Farm Bill. Since initial funding in 1991, CSREES has awarded grants to more than 30 states resulting in on-farm assistance to more than 12,000 farmers.