Safe Farming Possible for Those with Vision Problems

Vision impairment can be a significant barrier to completing farm tasks safely and efficiently, but many vision problems such as cataracts are treatable.  Farmers are an at-risk population for cataracts and the Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project reminds farmers that there are ways to prevent cataracts and accommodate low vision or loss of vision in everyday farming tasks.

Estimates indicate that one in seven people in the United States has a cataract.  That statistic applies to farmers as well as the general public.  A cataract is a clouding of the normal clear lens of the eye, preventing light from passing through to focus properly on the retina.  If you believe you have a cataract, see your family eye doctor for a complete examination.  Symptoms of a cataract may include increased nearsightedness; sensitivity to light and glare, especially while driving at night; blurred vision; distorted images in either eye; changes in the way you see colors, or colors seem faded; cloudy, filmy or fuzzy vision; double vision; frequent changes in your eyeglass prescription; changes in the color of the pupil; poor night vision.  Medical advances make it possible to successfully treat cataracts with surgery.  According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States and has more than a 90% success rate.

Farming with any vision impairment, including a cataract, can be challenging and dangerous.  If you find yourself trying to farm with impaired sight, the following tips from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired can make farm chores a bit safer:

  • Hang wind chimes outside the house as an audible landmark.  “Tune” farm buildings by using different chimes to identify different buildings.
  • Suspend a tennis or playground ball from a piece of twine to mark when to stop a vehicle as you drive into a building.  The idea is that when the vehicle’s windshield bumps into the ball it’s time to stop.
  • Make sure work areas and walkways are well lighted and that light bulbs are checked and replaced regularly.
  • Color code tools like rakes, hoes and shovels by wrapping a wide band of colored duct or electrical tape around the handles.
  • Wrap rubber bands around handles to distinguish between regular and Phillips head screw drivers.  Do the same with metric wrenches in the tool box to distinguish them from standard wrenches.
  • Hang an old burlap feed bag about two feet away from a low-hanging beam or light fixture as a reminder to duck your head.  Burlap works best because it is more likely to catch on a cap than smoother materials.
  • Prevent eye damage by wearing sunglasses that block UVA/UVB rays and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors to reduce exposing eyes to ultraviolet light.

For more information about farming with a disability, visit the Mid-Atlantic Agrability Web site at www.mid-atlanticagrability.com  or call 1-877-204-3276  to make an appointment with an AgrAbility Case Manager.

 

AgrAbility celebrates 20 years providing accessible support to the farming community

The National AgrAbility Program celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year in supporting farmers and their families with disabilities. USDA currently supports more than 25 states and regional projects including the Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project (MAAP) which supports farmers in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

The vision of AgrAbility is to enable a high quality lifestyle for farmers and farm workers with disabilities. Through education and assistance, AgrAbility helps to eliminate obstacles that blocks success in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations. AgrAbility helps farmers tackle the health challenges that sometimes come with farming like: arthritis, chronic back pain, respiratory problems, hearing and visual impairment and more serious challenges such as amputations, paralysis, head injuries, and other disabling conditions.

The Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project is a partnership of the land-grant institutions – the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, University of Maryland and Rutgers University working with non-profit disability partners – Easter Seals of Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Resources for Independence in Maryland, and Goodwill in New Jersey. The project targets farmers, watermen, loggers and poultry growers who want to continue making their livelihoods in agriculture despite a physical limitation or health condition.
AgrAbility offers the following services at no cost to farmers:

• Conducts on-site assessments to identify barriers
• Recommends appropriate assistive technologies (equipment, tools and devices), modified work practices, and other possible solutions to overcoming disability-related limitations  
• Provides educational and training opportunities and informational materials
• Refers customers to service providers for potential assistance (financial support and rehabilitative services, etc.) to meet the clients’ needs
• Offers expert advice on equipment modifications, home modifications and adaptive equipment
• Provides peer support opportunities

Since it began in 1991, AgrAbility has impacted the lives of thousands of farmers through direct services. The Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project is in its 14th year and it is estimated that we have serviced approximately 300 first-time farmers and their families and reached more than 10,000 with training, educational programs, and outreach activities.

The Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project provides solutions, removes barriers through assistive technology, is about no-limit thinking and preserves a way of life. Please visit our website at www.mid-atlanticagrability.com or contact Ron Jester at the Sussex County Extension Office (302)856-2585, Ext 584 to learn more about the program.