For more than 30 years, the AgrAbility Program, supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has helped to empower individuals with disabilities to keep doing what they love. AgrAbility’s efforts have helped enhance quality of life, not only for individuals, but also for families and communities.
Since 1983, Laurie Hayn and her husband, Dale, have been farming alongside each other on their corn and soybean operation in Indiana. While helping with corn harvest in 2018, Laurie was caught in the head of a combine and lost her left arm and leg. With resources from AgrAbility, Laurie bounced back quickly into farming.
After conducting a farm assessment, which included touring the Hayns' farm operation and identifying barriers to productivity, the Indiana AgrAbility and the Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services determined that two of the most helpful pieces of assistive technology to keep Laurie farming would be a platform lift to get her into the tractor’s cab and a utility vehicle with an enclosed cab.
Five years later, Laurie continues to share with others how the AgrAbility program helped her continue farming after the accident.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, data gathered from 2019 statistics indicate that the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous in America with 573 fatalities, or an equivalent of 23.1 deaths per 100,000 workers.
Over the years, AgrAbility has provided direct, on-site services to more than 13,600 farmers and their families.
The following information originally appeared in AgrAbility: 30 Years of Impact.
Doug VerHoeven’s life changed overnight 44 years ago when he was injured in a vehicle accident as a high school student. But it didn’t end his dream of farming the family operation near Holland, Michigan. Through his years of farming from the seat of a wheelchair, he built an inventory of tools, ideas and methods that helped him persevere. He also benefitted from being an AgrAbility client and from serving as a member of AgrAbility’s farmer advisory panel. In 2019, he teamed up with Michigan AgrAbility to create the Michigan AgrAbility Demonstration Farm to share his knowledge of assistive technology tools and equipment.
“My heart has always been to give back,” he said. Ned Stoller, an assistive technology professional and Michigan AgrAbility ag engineer, has worked with VerHoeven to make the demonstration farm a reality. “It gives farmers a chance to try assistive technology before they buy it and gain ideas by seeing what other farmers have built,” he said.
The demonstration farm includes lifts, ramps, outdoor mobility vehicles, hitch attachments and basic overhead-door-handling equipment. It also offers smaller tools: pruners, anti-vibration gloves, easy attachments for hydraulic hoses and more.
“Over the years, other people who are paralyzed or injured have come to the farm,” VerHoeven said. “They think that when they’re in the wheelchair, that’s what they’re confined to, and they don’t really know they can do other things until you show them.”
Read more AgrAbility client stories that illustrate the ways the program can improve quality of life and cultivate independence in the AgrAbility: 30 Years of Impact.