Whether the result of an accident, a chronic disease or complications from surgery, nearly 300,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 79 have a disability that affects the way they take on essential tasks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From chair lifts to accessible squeeze chutes, equipment adapted for mobility on the farm and ranch was on display at the National AgrAbility Project conference in Lincoln, Nebraska this spring.
For all-terrain movement, there’s a wheelchair on tracks, the Action Trackchair made by a Marshall, Minnesota firm. Bill Begley with Life Essential Sales in Wolcott, Indiana, gave a demonstration of the heavy-duty chair, which sells for that sells for about $18,000
“This one was made out of necessity,” he said, “The developer’s son was injured and the chair was a way to keep him active in the winter.
“The best part is there are organizations out there that if the person meets their qualifications, they will award them a chair. In addition, this is the only chair on tracks that will stand a person up,” Begley added. “It is a game changer for a lot of people.”
The chair will work with a solar-powered generator and can be set up to run for a quadriplegic with a sip-and-puff system or chin control. There is also a pediatric size and it fits in a mobility van.
Begley also demonstrated a lift that can be used to help people into a pickup or a combine.
There was also a journeyman’s chair, especially helpful when working in shop situations. His firm also offers a collapsible tricycle that weighs roughly 160 pounds with a battery, that is primarily for mobility.
AgrAbility researcher Ned Stoller covered steps to take in selecting a suitable all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or utility task vehicle (UTV) for those with disabilities. In addition, exhibitors conducted a related workshop with a number of assistive technologies to make life on the farm or ranch easier when dealing with almost any type of disability.
ATVs work best for those who have enough body control to maintain stability, Stroller said. They allow users to climb and descend hills and maneuver over obstacles when doing tasks such as checking cattle or fences. Those with mobility or stability impairments should consider UTVs or golf carts, he said.
In either case the vehicles allow users increased mobility, the ability to tow and move implements, transport supplies, spray chemicals, feed animals, take soil samples, map fields, inspect crops, mark timber, mow grass and move dirt or plow snow.
“While ATVs and UTVs are convenient for everybody, they are necessary for those with mobility impairments,” said Stoller. “It’s an assistive technology.”
A number of add-on features and adaptations are available from manufacturers or firms specializing in assistive technology. One-such upgrade is a passenger seat that can be folded or removed to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.
“To transport supplies, UTVs can be adapted with a larger capacity cargo box that will carry up to 1,000 pounds. Front and rear racks on ATVs can be used to secure cargo or implements,” Stoller said.
One AgrAbility client had found a firm that adapted his UTV to pick up and move vegetable crates with a small crane. Plus there are many attachments for ATVs and UTVs, such as a fertilizer spreader, sprayer, mower, scoop, calf-catcher and for equipment for feeding livestock.
As they evaluate clients, AgrAbility researchers assess mobility.
“ATVs are more difficult to mount and dismount and users must be cautious when carrying heavy cargo. They can also be difficult to steer with limited upper body strength, but steering controls can be installed,” he said.
AgrAbility staff stresses the importance of following safety procedures and understanding local regulations for their vehicle’s operation. When they help clients locate vehicles, they are required to read the operator’s manual, urge them never to transport riders in the cargo area, check to match the speed to terrain, slow down for turns, never over load and tie down and distribute those loads evenly.
Doors and hand controls are other features that can be added to a vehicle. On ATVs some important things to consider are having a rod to shift, a foot rest and adding insulation to prevent burns from a heated exhaust.
“This is especially important for those with spinal cord injuries who have no feeling in their lower extremities,” Stoller said.
To allow accessibility in all seasons, UTVs can be purchased with cabs, heat and air-conditioning. When adding front and rear windshields, the AgrAbility team advises opting for glass, as poly windows scratch easily.
Depending on the individual’s mobility issues, front and rear-opening doors are other options to consider.
ATVs and UTVs are available for anywhere between $6,000 up to $23,000, depending on model size and features added.
During an afternoon session at the AgrAbility conference, exhibitors showed a variety of assistive vehicles and equipment. Among the offerings were a squeeze chute system that offered controls that swung to accommodate individuals whether they were seated or standing.
“This is a game changer for someone who is wheelchair bound,” said Gene Dubas of Dubas Equipment in Fullerton, Nebraska. “They are able to help work livestock with the hydraulic controls and not have to stand.”
A total 29 states have AgrAbility projects and have staff available to assist with questions and searches for adaptive equipment.
Depending on an individual’s situation there are grants and loans available to assist with the purchase of the many types of assistive technology. Find the AgrAbility website at agrability.org and click on the State Projects Directory in the main menu.
Barb Bierman Batie writes for the Midwest Messenger from Lexington, Nebraska. She can be reached at email@example.com.