Bill Wilkins is a member of Ohio AgrAbility and one of the program’s greatest advocates. Wilkins is a 61-year old farmer who lost use of his legs in 1974 due to a tractor-related accident , and has since farmed from a wheelchair.

Sharing ideas and being neighborly is foundation of Ohio AgrAbility Program

For generations, farm families and rural folks have shared unique traits. For one, they help each other through life’s ups and downs. Although it is not often talked about, being a good neighbor is a common philosophy. And that unspoken mannerism is evident during times of hardship as well as times of celebration. Coming to lend a helping hand is just what rural neighbors do when there is a tragedy or the job at hand is too large for one person or one family to bear.

Another characteristic of farmers is that they are natural problem solvers. They have oftentimes learned through their own trial and error, or knew someone who went through a similar situation. They are independent and creative, and those skills lead to ideas that become solutions for problems. Many of these ideas are low-cost and easily implemented, while others are costly and require planning and time for implementation.

 

AgrAbility is a rural neighbor organization

AgrAbility is a program dedicated to serving farmers, farm families and agricultural businesses with solutions designed to increase worker productivity. For those facing life changing injuries, the AgrAbility program offers options to continue a productive career in agriculture. AgrAbility assists all types of personal limitations, including persons with physical handicaps, back injuries, short-term disabilities from a surgery or impairment injury, chronic arthritis and other limitating conditions resulting from the natural aging process.

AgrAbility focuses on problems and provides solutions for the agricultural community. Their specialists have a Toolbox Handbook full of suggestions for equipment and building modifications. The specialists also have solutions for shop modifications and overall work practices. A strong network of farmer peers partner with the AgrAbility staff to share experiences, ideas and suggestions. The specialists are also connected to various equipment vendors, occupational therapists, and rehabilitation specialists, all in the spirit of solving problems for farm families. Because they understand agriculture, they are able to provide or find unique services and solutions for problems.

Knowing that each agricultural operation is a bit different than the next, AgrAbility specialists and peer members know that a “one-size fits all” model cannot be the answer for every situation. Working together and sharing ideas is the benefit of having an outside perspective on a farm chore or work environment that could use a change. Even small modifications can have a large impact that improves efficiency for that farm operation or enables a person to complete additioanl tasks.

 

AgrAbility provides assistance to many rural neighbors

Bill Wilkins is a member of Ohio AgrAbility and one of the program’s greatest advocates. Wilkins is a 61-year old farmer who lost use of his legs in 1974 due to a tractor-related accident , and has since farmed from a wheelchair. As an AgrAbility member, he has received services from the program. As a farmer peer member, he has helped solve problems for other farmers in the program.

Three solutions initiated by AgrAbility to assist Wilkins on his own farm are shared in this article. We share them in the spirit of being neighborly. If readers can learn from these ideas, or put them to work for their own operations, that furthers the mission of AgrAbility.

 

Farm utilty vehicle

Farmers are continually finding uses for utility vehicles to reduce wear on their pick-up trucks and other implements. Whether it’s being able to access fields, check fence rows, transport materials, or aid in farm chores, farm utility vehicles can be considered Assistive Technology to help make jobs easier.

Since Wilkins acquired a utility vehicle in late 2012, he continues to find more uses for it on his farm. Some of the uses include picking up rocks, placing border flags around his fields, checking seed placement when planting, checking seed germination and plant populations, and hauling firewood. During field work, he prefers the utility vehicle over the pickup truck to transport seed, tools, fuel and other supplies to service his equipment. The utility vehicle provides easier access and gets through wet spots while leaving less of a foot print and considerably less soil compaction than his pickup truck.

In the spring of 2013, Wilkins built a field sprayer for his utility vehicle. It has a 100 gallon tank with 30 foot wide fold-up booms. He now has the independent capability to spray his crop land with more precision and timeliness than what he had in the past with custom applicators.

 

Automated lift

Automated lifts can be mounted to tractors, combines, and pick-up trucks. These devices allow the person to access the operator’s seat and perform a wide range of farming practices.

Wilkins acquired a versitale trailer lift in the spring of 2013. Prior to having the lift, Wilkins used ropes and handles on mounting ladders to pull himself onto his equipment. The lift gains him access to tractor and combine seats, saving wear and tear on his shoulders and arms. The lift also gives him the ability to change light bulbs in farm buildings, trim branches, and wax the top of his vehicles. He also has a better ability to perform equiment and building maintenance because the lift raises up to 12 feet above the ground.

 

Standing wheelchair

An innovative standing wheelchair allows a users to stand up in addition to sitting, as provided by a traditional wheelchair. There is medical evidence that people who can occasionally stand in wheelchairs are overall healthier persons. Besides providing natural therapy, these chairs increase circulation, improve digestion, and reduce many problems and skin sores associated with kidney and bladder function. The standing wheelchair also gives persons more independence, improves their self-confidence and sense of well being.

Wilkins2Wilkins acquired a standing wheelchair to help him perform a wide variety of farm and house tasks. With this chair, he has a wider range of reach and mobility. He can now reach objects placed on high shelves in the house and shop. Standing makes it easier to maintain and service vehicles and farm equipment.

Overall, his body health has improved with this one piece of equipment. In just the short time span that he has had the chair, he notices a reduction in pressure sores from not having to sit all the time and a reduction in urinary tract infections. Blood circulation has improved in his lower extremities. Osteoprosis in the bones of his legs, hips and back is less likely to occur because standing provides needed stress, proven to strengthen the bones. One the most notable benefits is the ability to stand and talk eye-to-eye with others, which helps improve communication and body language.

 

Share your story or modification

The Ohio AgrAbility Program continues to look for ways to serve Ohio farmers and their families with technical or rehabilitative assistance and assistive technology. If you, a family member or neighbor could benefit from their services; if you are a vendor with a product idea or speciality practice; or if you have ideas to share please contact program specialists directly.

Agriculture entails a lot of hard work. Making it easier for farmers to do what they love is the ultimate goal of this program. Be it a large-scale or a small everyday type of problem, assistive technology trouble-shooting is a natural part of AgrAbility’s mission to serve Ohio farmers.

The Ohio AgrAbility program has a website where you can learn about their opportunities and have access to their resources. The site is www.agrability.osu.edu.

 

Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor for Agricultural Safety and Health, can be reached at 292-6008 or jepsen.4@osu.edu.  This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering in collaboration with Easter Seals.

 

 

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