Authorized by the 1990 Farm Bill, in 1991 the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated funding for state-level programs to provide information on accommodating disability in agriculture. “The funding is provided through a competitive grant process,” says Robert Aherin, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois, and program director of AgrAbility Unlimited. “Illinois is one of 24 states operating individually with this funding.”
The University of Illinois Extension is the lead organization in collaboration with Macon Resources Inc., The Illinois Assistive Technology Program, and Community Health Partnership of Illinois. These organizations have combined their expertise in agriculture, assistive technology, and disabilities to form AgrAbility Unlimited, a program to promote independence and productivity for Illinois agricultural workers who have experienced physical limitations do to a disabling injury or illness as a result of an accident, disease or age related health problem. “Through AgrAbility Unlimited,” says Aherin, “our goal is to assist farmers, their families, migrant workers, and farm workers to improve their quality of life.”
The program has also received private support from the Illinois Farm Bureau, 1st Farm Credit, the IAA Foundation, Growmark, Co-Bank, Farm Credit Services, The Brandt Foundation, Susan Vinckel Trust, Ullrich Foundation, and contributions from individuals.
Aherin says the program seeks ways to mitigate the effects of disabling illnesses and accidents through understanding each individual’s needs and then assisting them through a network of local agricultural and rehabilitation specialists, equipment modification ideas, job restructuring, and if needed, alternative job development. “If there is a need for financial assistance in covering assistive technology cost,” says Aherin, “we will assist clients in obtaining the needed financial resources if they meet certain financial qualifications.”
All AgrAbility Unlimited services are free of charge and the confidentiality of those who contact the program is held at the highest regard. To allow easy access to these services, there is a toll-free information and referral hotline. In Illinois, call 1-844-876-5623.