by The inMotion Editorial Staff

Barn Builders Network builds an informal peer support network of farmers and ranchers with disabilities across the nation

Limited personal resources and lack of services for people in rural areas are obstacles for independent farmers and ranchers with disabilities. Add the feelings of apprehension and isolation that often follow the amputation of a limb and you have a human need that only the personal touch of peer support can fill.

Recognizing this need in rural communities nationwide, in 1992, the Breaking New Ground (BNG) Resource Center at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, distributed an application for the Barn Builders Network in the BNG newsletter. The idea was to form an informal peer support network of farmers and ranchers with disabilities across the nation. The list would include people who were willing to become personally involved in the lives of other individuals who could benefit from their personal experiences.

For example, perhaps a farmer might like to know of others in his or her state who were farming with the same type of disability or similar farming operation. Whatever the connection, BNG wanted to draw these people together to let them know that they were not alone.

The response was generous, 88 farmers representing 33 states and two Canadian provinces volunteered to be of assistance, if called upon. The information was compiled into a directory, which is updated as new people join the network.

The application information includes:

  • Name, address, age and phone number of volunteer
  • Nature of farm/ranch operation (including crops or livestock raised, number of acres and type of facilities)
  • Special modifications made to the farm/ranch operation to accommodate disability
  • Nature of disability
  • Desired level of participation
  • talk with others by telephone
  • make hospital visits with 75 miles
  • make farm/ranch visits within 75 miles
  • correspond by mail
  • Invite someone to visit farm/ranch operation to see worksite/ home modifications
  • Participate in BNG educational activities such as workshops
  • Reason for participating in the BNG Barn Builder program

For an application form or to get a copy of the directory write/call Barn Builders Network, c/o Breaking New Ground Resource Center, Purdue University, 1146 Agricultural Engineering Building, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1146; phone: 1-800/825-4264 or fax 1-317/496-1115.

Can You Farm With A Disability?AgrAbility Says YES!

Agricultural production is one of the nation's most hazardous occupations. Each year, approximately 200,000 people working in agriculture experience injuries that limit their ability to perform essential farm tasks. Tens of thousands more become disabled as a result of non-farm injuries, illnesses, other health conditions, and the aging process. Nationwide, approximately 500,000 farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers have physical disabilities that interfere with their farm work.

For many of these individuals, the presence of a disability jeopardizes their rural and agricultural futures. Rural isolation, a tradition of self-reliance, and gaps in rural service delivery systems frequently prevent agricultural workers with disabilities from taking advantage of growing expertise in modifying farm operations, adapting equipment, promoting farmstead accessibility, and using assistive technologies to safely accommodate disability in agricultural and rural settings. Yet, with some assistance, the majority of disabled agricultural workers can continue to earn their livelihoods in agriculture and participate fully in rural community life.

The AgrAbility Project was created to assist people with disabilities employed in agriculture. It links cooperative extension services with nonprofit disability service organizations to provide practical education and assistance that promotes independence in agricultural production and rural living. In just four years, the AgrAbility Project has emerged as one of rural America's most valuable and cost-effective resources.

The AgrAbility Project is helping hundreds of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers with disabilities and their families to succeed in agricultural production and rural community life.

For more information:

Carol Maus, AgrAbility project director, NESS, National Easter Seal Society, 700 Thirteenth St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005.
Call (202) 347-3066/FAX: fax 202-737-7914 -
E-Mail: or visit the web site at 
(Note: Site no longer available. See

Last updated: 01/01/2017
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