Disability and Services






Disability and Services

How many farmers/ranchers with disabilities are there?

According to the department of labor regarding the number of individuals engaged in production agriculture and the 2000 census report on the percent of individuals who experience a disability, approximately 288,000 individuals engaged in production agriculture experience physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities that affect performing one or more essential work tasks.

What can AgrAbility do for a farmer/rancher (the client) with a disability?

The AgrAbility Project was created to assist people with disabilities employed in agriculture. The project links the Cooperative Extension Service at a land-grant university with a private, nonprofit disability service organization to provide practical education and assistance that promotes independence in agricultural production and rural living. The AgrAbility Project assists people involved in production agriculture who work both on small and large operations.

Who is eligible for AgrAbility services?

Those farmers, ranchers, farm workers, or family members employed in agriculture eligible for AgrAbility services may have any type of disability – physical, cognitive, or illness-related, for example:

  • amputations
  • back pain
  • cancer
  • cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • multiple sclerosis
  • post-polio syndrome
  • spinal cord injury
  • traumatic brain injuries
  • arthritis
  • blindness or vision impairments
  • cardiac problems
  • deafness or hearing impairments
  • mental retardation
  • muscular dystrophy
  • respiratory problems
  • stroke

Do I qualify for AgrAbility benefits if I was injured in a non-farm related incident?

All farmers, ranchers, farm workers, and members of their families qualify for AgrAbility benefits regardless the location of the incident.

How can I contact someone for help?

If you are interested in AgrAbility Project services (e.g., training, site visit, on-farm assessments, technical assistance, and other information working directly with the farmer or rancher), please contact your State AgrAbility staff at the State Projects web page.

Does my state or region have an AgrAbility program?

For a complete listing of the State AgrAbility Projects and state staff, please jump to the State Projects web page. The State Projects web page has a map of the United States at the top. The map shows each state with an AgrAbility Project or Affiliate Project, highlighted with color (shaded, if viewing on a black and white monitor). Directly below the map, each state with an AgrAbility or Affiliate Project also has a live link you can select. When you click within the map on a state with a Project or select a live link, you will jump down the web page directly to that State or Affiliate Project for more information. Affiliate Projects are perhaps best described as projects which once had AgrAbility funding, but are not currently being funded. Affiliate Project services might vary from state to state.

My state / region does not have an AgrAbility program. Who can I turn to?

If your state does not have an AgrAbility Project, or if you have general questions about AgrAbility, please contact the National Project staff through Purdue. The national staff can provide direct technical consultation to consumers, health and rehabilitation professionals and other service providers on how to accommodate disabilities in production agriculture. For example, staff can assist fabricators with designing hand controls for a tractor. In addition, national staff can provide members of other national and international agricultural and health-related organizations with information and resources to help farmers and ranchers with disabilities.

What if I’m a farmer with a disability who now wants to get into a different type of farming, or less labor intensive farming, can AgrAbility help?

Yes. Together, the AgrAbility specialist and you will discuss the current operation, assess where changes may need to be made, consult with agricultural specialists if needed and then develop a plan for switching into a different type of farming. Sometimes with labor-saving technology or restructuring how work is done, you may be able to remain in your current operation.


Who provides the funding for AgrAbility?

Support for AgrAbility comes from the federal government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Are there any fees or costs associated with AgrAbility’s services?

There are no fees for the services received through AgrAbility. If you and the AgrAbility specialist decide on accommodations or technology that may make your work easier, the costs will be your responsibility. If you have difficulty with these costs, the AgrAbility specialist will help you look for financial assistance.

Does AgrAbility have money to help purchase assistive technology for clients?

No, the AgrAbility Project can not purchase assistive technology for clients.

Does AgrAbility fund modifications on farms/ranches?

AgrAbility staff perform worksite assessments and develop a plan to accommodate the farmer/rancher. Funding for the plan must come from the farmer/rancher or other sources such a State Vocational Rehabilitation or charitable organizations.

Where do I find funding to buy equipment I need to keep farming?

Funding is always a difficult issue. If you have a disability and are eligible for their program, the state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program may be able to help you. VR would not buy farm equipment unless that equipment would directly accommodate limitations imposed by a disability. Check this website for the VR program locations in your state .

Are there waiting lists for getting help through AgrAbility or funding sources such as Vocational Rehabilitation?

Waiting lists with the AgrAbility Project are rare. If a list exists, apply so you can receive services when they are available. Programs like the state vocational rehabilitation agencies (VR) are more likely to have waiting lists due to federal and state budget constraints. Services are being provided to those with the most significant disability and how it affects daily functioning. It is recommended that you submit the written application to VR. The process of determining eligibility and ranking for services, done in an interview format, often reveals barriers and functional limitations not previously considered.


The National AgrAbility Project (2001 – 2008) conducted a survey in the summer of 2006 to gain a better understanding of the State and Regional AgrAbility Project (SRAP) staff’s understanding of basic liability issues. Based on the responses to the survey, a series of seven liability-related areas or liability-related topics were developed. These seven areas or topics, formatted as frequently-ask-questions (FAQ), are presented below. Along with the other liability resources contained on the AgrAbility web site, we hope this information is helpful.

How do I gain a better understanding of the basic liability issues and terminology?

Since 2002, AgrAbility has offered numerous training sessions at the National Training Workshop to provide SRAP staff with a better understanding of liability-related issues. AgrAbility also offers liability-related information via a dedicated Introduction to Liability web page and also a complete online self-learning training power point module devoted to liability-related issues. AgrAbility can only offer liability-related information as a resource. To become an expert in liability-related issues takes many hours of study, and perhaps even obtaining some kind of legal degree. Short of that, there are hundreds of books and thousands of web pages one can read to begin the process of learning about liability-related issues.

Perhaps a good place to start to learn about and understand liability-related issues, is to review some of the more common words or terms used. AgrAbility has a document titled “general legal definitions” that was shared at the 2006 National Training Workshop by Mr. Henry Palmer, a partner in the law firm of Lawyers PLLC, as one example of common liability-related words or terms.

Another easy place to search for and learn liability-related terminology is Wikipedia on the web. For example, the following definitions for the terms “liability, tort, and negligence” were all taken from Wikipedia. Anyone could easily assemble their own electronic dictionary of liability-related terms using this method.

In law a legal liability is a situation in which a person is liable (i.e., subject to legal action, or legally responsible), such in situations of tort concerning property or reputation and is therefore responsible to pay compensation for any damage incurred; liability may be civil or criminal.

Tort is a legal term that means civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal wrong, that is recognized by law as grounds for a lawsuit. Unlike obligations created through a contract, the duties imposed under tort law are mandatory for all citizens in that jurisdiction. Somebody behaves ‘tortiously’ when they harm other peoples’ bodies, property or legal rights or breach a duty owed under statutory law.

In law, negligence is a type of tort or delict that can be either criminal or civil in nature. Negligence means conduct that is culpable because it misses the legal standard protecting individuals against forseeably risky, harmful acts of other members of society. Negligent behavior towards others gives them rights to be compensated for the harm to their body or property.

There are on line courses as well as conferences and seminars focusing on liability-relatd issues. For example, at the University of WI-Madison, the College of Engineering, Department of Engineering Professional Development offers several liability related courses.

How do I know to what extent I am covered for liability by my employer?

The best way to understand the liability coverage extended by your employer is to “ask”. While that may seem silly, one should not assume that they have liability coverage. If you are an employee of the government, or work at a university, you probably have some liability coverage. NAP has a document titled “Governmental Entities and Employees that was shared at the 2006 National Training Workshop by Mr. Henry Palmer, a partner in the law firm of Lawyers PLLC, that is just one example of the kind of liability coverage an employee of the government has. If you are employed by a private company or a non-profit, you should ask to be sure you understand your liability coverage, if any. Obviously if you are self employed, such as an independent consultant, you should decide if your tasks or job duties place you at liability risk, and whether you should seek liability insurance.

What are some of the best ways to limit my liability risk?

One of the best ways to manage or limit your liability or risk is to never practice outside your educational or “experiential” role. Professional engineers are trained to perform engineering tasks such as product design and product safety, while not necessarily understanding all the issues involved with an injury that limits one’s range-of-motion. Likewise, occupational therapists may have training that is focused on understanding human body mechanics such as range-of-motion, but may not have a strong background on engineering topics like the strength of materials. Working within the knowledge of each profession and using a team approach will result in more complete farmer or rancher assessments, improve outcomes and better manage personal/professional liability or risk.

Along with understanding the parameters of your role as an SRAP staff professional, it is recommended that you carry appropriate professional liability insurance, maintain proper and complete documentation, and follow the “safety hierarchy” to further protect yourself and the individuals you are working with.

Another source of how to best manage your professional liability risk is to review the 10 steps as outlined in Mr. Gary Huitink’s handout2, presented at the 2006 National Training Workshop:

Basically, any interaction with the farmer or rancher “could” lead to a liability issue if SRAP staff do not perform their duties both professionally and responsibly. NAP provides training in the most every aspect of proper farmer or rancher (i.e., client) case management on line with in the AgrAbility Service Delivery Manual and also provide on-site farm assessment training with examples of tools one can use to document the limitations and needs of the farmer or rancher. Despite all the training and information NAP provides, SRAP staff must still understand their own limits and work within their professional, educational, or “experiential” roles.

Who is responsible if modifications are made/suggested for equipment?

When working with the farmer or rancher on site, and after working your way through the decision hierarchy tree, you may find yourself recommending the purchase of, or suggesting modifications to, some piece of farm machinery. Before doing either, first be sure you are working in your area of expertise. Second, try to find or recommend an existing or commercially available piece of farm machinery. This is ALWAYS the preferred solution. Existing machinery that is commercially available “assumes” that machinery has been properly designed and tested for safe operation. That doesn’t mean that machinery might not be unsafely operated or the farmer/rancher might receive poor/incorrect operating instructions, which might still lead to an injury and a risk of liability. Existing or commercially available machinery, however, should greatly lessen the need to make modifications, and therefore lessen your risk of liability.

If you cannot find an existing or commercially available piece of farm machinery, then you might find yourself suggesting or recommending to the farmer or rancher, ways to modify their existing machinery to assist them to more easily operate that machinery. Again, before doing so, be sure you are working in your area of expertise. The farmer or rancher is trusting you have the skills and knowledge to suggest or recommend such modifications. If you are not a skilled mechanical technician, or have a mechanical or agricultural engineering education or background, suggesting or recommending modifications to a piece of farm machinery might just be asking for trouble.

You might also work with the farmer or rancher, to suggest or help to find a local mechanic or local “welding or machine shop” that may have experience in providing services such as equipment modification.

Is there a good one-stop source of information on product or professional liability issues?

The National AgrAbility Project has tried to maintain and update several web pages and a complete online training module devoted to liability-related issues (see question #1 above). There are also several “liability-knowledge-able” experts within the SRAPs who are willing to help answer specific questions and concerns. Neither NAP or SRAP staff are lawyers, however, and therefore their ability to assist maybe limited.

Obviously, you can collect and learn more about liability issues by taking classes, reading books, surfing the internet, and talking or working directly with knowledge-able lawyers. Understanding all the issues surround liability though will not necessarily make you any more or any less at risk.

If you work for a university, we would recommend that you find the person(s) responsible for liability issues, and sit down with them and explain your job tasks, and see what concerns they have. Knowing ahead of time what areas might place you at greater risk of liability, would be a good way to limit your risk. If you work for a non-profit or as an independent consultant, you may wish to do the same with their legal counsel.

All SRAP staff should have the best interest of the farmers and ranchers they serve in mind when they are working to assist them. Understanding your own area of expertise and working within those boundaries is the best way to limit your risk.

Where can I get professional liability insurance coverage?

Assuming you have already performed some kind of analysis and you have determined you need to obtain liability coverage, where might you look to find such coverage? If you are not covered by liability insurance through your employer, then you may want to purchase a personal or professional liability policy to cover yourself. Before purchasing any policy, be sure you understand what the policy covers or perhaps more importantly, what the policy “doesn’t cover”.

One place to start looking for a personal or professional liability policy might be any professional organizations you are a member of or belong to. For example, if you are a Professional Engineer, you may be able to purchase a personal or professional liability policy at a reduced rate through your membership organization’s group buying power. Another place to look for coverage would be to talk with your insurance agent, sometimes the same company that insures your home and automobile might offer personal or professional liability coverage. Also, your home or automobile insurance may have some liability coverage that you may be able to extend or adjust to cover your professional work.

Other places to look for coverage might include your local chamber of commerce or our local better business bureau. Finally, there are several sources of information on the internet regarding liability insurance. A place to start might be the Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO).

What standards apply to SRAP staff and liability issues we encounter?

There are “no standards” by which AgrAbility staff are required to follow to perform within their jobs that have been created by the AgrAbility Project. The AgrAbility Project does conduct an annual training workshop, along with new-staff orientation and training twice a year. SRAP staff are expected to perform their duties in a professional and caring manner, and depending upon their assigned tasks, SRAP staff may be bound by numerous other standards and “best-practice” rules. For example, all data collected on farmers and ranchers with disabilities (e.g., clients) must be held in the strictest confidentiality, and may even be subject to HIPPA regulations in your organization or within your state. Also, many SRAP staff have educational backgrounds or degrees in engineering, or occupational therapy, each of which have their own “best practices” and “code of ethics” to follow and adhere to.

The AgrAbility Project (i.e., grant funds) does not have the finances nor the ability to purchase professional/product liability insurance for SRAP employees. As discussed above, SRAP staff employed by a university (e.g., government employees) are probably adequately covered, however, SRAP staff that work for non-profits or as independent consultants may wish to purchase their own liability insurance coverage.


How do AgrAbility Projects find farmers who need assistance?

AgrAbility finds farmers who need assistance through an extensive network of individuals, organizations and outreach efforts.


I need engineering / technical guidance. To whom should I direct my question?

Send your request to the AgrAbility staff using the Contact Us link on the AgrAbility web page and your request will be routed to the appropriate staff member.

I’m a vendor and I’d like you to consider adding my product to your database. How do I bring my product to AgrAbility’s attention?

Send your product information to the AgrAbility staff using the Contact Us link on the AgrAbility web page and your request will be routed to the appropriate staff member who will follow up with you if we need more information or your assistance in getting your product listed in the on line product database.

I am looking for a particular product and need specific information such as price, shipping costs, etc. Who do I contact?

AgrAbility provides resources to farmers and ranchers with disabilities to assist them in their work. One of those resources is the on line Assistive Technology Product Database . If you have trouble using the database, or can not find what you are looking for, send your request to the staff using the Contact Us link on the AgrAbility web page and your request will be routed to the appropriate staff member.

Can I order equipment directly from AgrAbility?

No, AgrAbility does not sell or house products in our office. If you need particular product information, you will want to contact the company who manufactures or sells that product, after you have found that information from the on line product database.


If I want to volunteer some of my time to help AgrAbility, who do I contact?

Contact your state AgrAbility office directly. The contact information for each state project can be found at the State Projects web page. If your state does not have an AgrAbility Project, please send your volunteer ideas to the National AgrAbility Project at Purdue.

Where can I find information that describes characteristics of AgrAbility clients nationwide for my own information or use in a presentation?

We may have just what you need, please contact the National AgrAbility Project at Purdue and your request will be routed to the appropriate staff member.

How can I access information about assistive technology solutions in agriculture?

AgrAbility maintains a web page, which has a dedicated area for “assistive technology” and other related ideas and solutions. For starters, you should visit this page and review the Resources offered on various assistive technologies. If you don’t find what you need there, you can also review the on line product database.

Are printed versions of your materials available?

The easiest way to obtain printed copies of AgrAbility materials is to print them yourself using Adobe® Reader® software. You can download the reader free from the AgrAbility web site.

Once you have the Reader® software, you can click on any PDF document, sometimes shown using the following icon (PDF Version icon) to view or print any available AgrAbility document.

If this still doesn’t meet your needs, please just send your specific request to us via the Contact Us link on any page of the AgrAbility web site.