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Indiana AgrAbility Project keeps farming accessible for all

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Twenty years ago, Justin Hosler met a man he shared two things with: life-changing injuries that rendered both of them unable to walk and physical therapy sessions. In rehabilitation, it bothered Hosler to watch the man refuse to try.

“His refusal to try motivated me … there’s a lot of life left and I couldn’t just sit there and not live it,” said Hosler, who now farms 1,800 acres full-time in Huntington County.

That determination lifted Hosler to ambitiously pursue his dreams. He found out about the Indiana AgrAbility Project and Vocational Rehabilitation Services of Indiana from friends who farmed. Hosler struggled with accepting help and receiving assistance – but much needed to be done on his family’s farm. Hosler received a chair lift for the operation’s tractor and began helping his dad.

AgrAbility is a USDA-sponsored program assisting agricultural workers with a wide range of disabilities, from spinal cord injuries to arthritis to behavioral health issues. It is modeled after the Breaking New Ground Outreach program – a collaboration between Purdue’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Purdue Extension that served rural Indiana residents. Now AgrAbility serves people in 20 states, and Breaking New Ground received the funding to manage Indiana’s program.

Justin Hosler and his son, Jacob, prepare a pickup-mounted lift chair so that Hosler can reach his tractor. Hosler has been working with the Indiana AgrAbility Project and Vocational Rehabilitation Services of Indiana for nearly 20 years.

After his father passed away in 2014, it wasn’t long before Hosler realized he needed additional assistance. Hosler called on AgrAbility team member Stephen Swain, a rural rehabilitation specialist, for an evaluation and recommendations. One challenge was the farm’s grain dryer; Hosler needed to climb up to make adjustments.

AgrAbility provided automated controls he can operate from the scale house. He can also control the bin fans through his phone or tablet. He receives text messages if the fan malfunctions or shuts off for any reason. Hosler also has acquired hand controls for the semi-truck he uses to haul grain, a tracked stand-up wheelchair with heavy-duty tread, and ramps for accessing grain-handling facilities.

“This equipment was a huge boost,” Hosler says. “I thought, ‘I can do this!’”

Thanks to assistance from AgrAbility and Vocational Rehabilitation, Hosler now feels in control of his farming operation and able to handle any job that comes his way.

Related Links

Purdue Extension-Huntington County
Indiana AgrAbility

The Efforts

Agriculture is one of America’s most dangerous occupations – with 100 farmers, ranchers, or agricultural workers sustaining a lost-work-time injury daily. It’s also estimated that as many as 2.23 million agriculture workers or members of their household live with disabilities.

The Indiana AgrAbility Project enables a high-quality lifestyle for farm workers and their families so that their businesses, and communities, can continue to succeed in rural America.

The Impact

AgrAbility’s partnership with Purdue Extension helps eliminate or minimize obstacles inhibiting Indiana farmers’ success in agriculture-related occupations.

This includes education on disability issues, networking to enhance resources and services, assessing worksites with modification recommendations, and directly assisting AgrAbility customers.

AgrAbility addresses back, joint, head, and orthopedic injuries; arthritis; strokes; amputations; and respiratory, visual, or hearing impairments – as well as disabilities due to disease or behavioral / psychological health issues.

The Numbers

11%: Percentage of Indiana farm families annually affected by farm-related injuries
19%: Percentage of active farm operators who can no longer perform essential tasks due to a disability
2,613: Farmers and ranchers who have received AgrAbility services since 2014
127: Assistive technology products added to AgrAbility’s online assistive technology database in 2016

The Future

Purdue Extension and the Indiana AgrAbility Project will continue to broaden expert resources available to those who strengthen Indiana’s agricultural production while living with disability.

This includes a focus on veteran-specific training sessions and resources, including partnerships with the Farmer Veteran Coalition and veteran-oriented training resources on the AgrAbility website.


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