One of the items included in the packet participants received at the recent AgrAbility National Conference in Indianapolis contained reprints of an historic newsletter. It was an issue of Breaking New Ground, the winter 1991, Volume 9, Number 1 issue. Breaking New Ground, one of the tools that got the attention of Congress to pass legislation to help disabled farmers in their occupation, was started at Purdue University by Bill Field, the farm safety specialist, and people whom he hired to carry out the project.
The special addition included an article detailing how legislation was passed by Congress, provided $1 million to start the program in fiscal year 1991. The idea behind the program was to provide rural rehabilitation and assistive technology for farmers with disabilities. The program has been reauthorized for 20 years since, and backers of the program hope Congress will see fit to continue it into the future. That was an underlying theme at the recent national meeting.
"We started out the first year with two van loads of people at the nation meeting," says Field, the man behind the initial effort. "This year we've attracted over 200 to the conference. We're meeting our objectives."
Congressmen that passed the initial program heard data like that printed in this special 20-year old bulletin. It included a report summarizing the work completed during the second year of Breaking New Ground. Some 54 farmers were visited the first year, and 40 the second, in 1989-90. Each client received visits, amounting to more than 11,000 miles in staff travel each year. About 60% of those helped were in the ages of 22 to 65, the prime working ages for farmers, in both years.
Perhaps most striking was a report of the injuries clients had who were visited. These visits typically consisted of assessments of both ways to help the individuals, and what kind of assistive equipment might make their situation better.Combining the two yeas, 47 of the people helped were paraplegics with spinal cord injuries. Ten more were quadriplegics with spinal cord injuries. Twenty-five suffered from amputation of an upper extremity, and 18 had lost one or both lower extremities. Another 15 suffered from a stroke or related problem. Six were affected by head injuries, seven were disabled by polio, eight had suffered back injuries, nine were coping with hand injuries and five fought respiratory disorders.