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ATU552 – AgrAbility with Paul Jones and Chuck Baldwin (Part 1)

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guests:

Paul Jones – Manager of National AgrAbility Project at Purdue University

Chuck Baldwin – Project Manager for the Indiana AgrAbility Project at Purdue University

website: www.agrability.org

Phone: 800-825-4264

 

Alexa Together Story: https://bit.ly/3dYvPFU
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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Paul Jones:
Hi, this is Paul Jones, and I’m the Manager of The National Agrability Project at Purdue University.

Charles Baldwin:
This is Chuck Baldwin, Project Manager for the Indiana Agrability Project at Purdue University. This is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 552 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on December 24th, 2021. Today, we’re super-excited to have Paul Jones and Chuck Baldwin on from Agrability, as well as a quick story about a new Alexa feature.

Josh Anderson:
Before we get into the interview, I’ve got a quick story here from review.com. Let’s talk about five ways that Alexa Together helps care for aging loved ones. Alexa Together is a new program that Amazon is releasing for its different Amazon Echo devices. That could be the Echo Show, the Echo Dot, the regular old Echo, I guess all of the different voice-activated Alexa devices.

Josh Anderson:
We all know that these can do a lot of different things, but this new Alexa Together subscription service is supposed to be able to help care for aging loved ones while letting them age in place, and not have to have someone watching them all the time. Costs about 19.99 a month, or about $199 annually, and this actually replaces Care Hub, which used to be available on different kinds of Alexa devices.

Josh Anderson:
Alexa Together offers some different things to users. The first thing that it outlines here is the urgent response. That means that individuals have 24/7 hands-free access to a professionally staffed emergency help line. All they have to say is… I won’t say the word, but a word, call for help.

Josh Anderson:
When they do that, this trained agent can get the police, and ambulance, fire department, or anything like that straight to that individual’s home, and also give information to their caregivers to let them know that this has happened.

Josh Anderson:
Second thing it outlines here is fall-detection response. This can be paired with a couple of different devices that can actually detect falls in the home, and automatically ask, “Are you okay?” When it doesn’t get a response, it can call for help. That way also, it offers activity feeds and alerts.

Josh Anderson:
So, the individual’s caregiver, they can get alerts when the individual interacts with an Echo device, or a connected smart-home device, or anything like. So that you can look at this feed and see that, “Oh, you know, the lights haven’t been turned on, they haven’t interacted with the device, maybe something’s wrong and I should check on them.”

Josh Anderson:
The fourth thing that it says that’s very important here is privacy protections. It says there’s lots of different privacy protections built in, but also includes privacy functions that limit what caregivers can actually access. They can be notified about interactions with the device, but without specifics about what TV shows, songs, podcasts, audible books are consumed or accessed.

Josh Anderson:
It also says that if a caregiver would want to use Remote Assist, then the individual, the senior, would actually have to grant access for them to be able to use that. Which brings it down to the fifth thing, which is Remote Assist. Remote Assist is enabled by the individual that’s aging in place, and allows their caregivers can remotely manage some different Echo features.

Josh Anderson:
That could be anything from setting reminders, checking on reminders, they could put different things on their calendar, or appointments, they can add contacts, they can add items to grocery lists. They can really do anything to that device that’s needed, like a remote IT professional. So, they can really help the individual if they might have different things that they need to do.

Josh Anderson:
Again, this isn’t a free service, but it might be a really good, unintrusive way to be able to feel a little bit more comfortable about our parents, grandparents, selves, being able to age in place. We’ll put a link to this over in the show notes. You can also go to Amazon and check out all this information as well. Pretty cool features, and might be a really great way for folks to be able to stay in their homes safely, a lot longer.

Josh Anderson:
Now, listeners, I’m not going to spend a lot of time introducing our guests or their programs today, as I feel that they’ll be able to describe it a whole lot better than I can. Our guests today are Paul Jones and Chuck Baldwin. They’re here to tell us all about Agrability. Paul, Chuck, welcome to the show.

Charles Baldwin:
Thank you. Good to be here.

Paul Jones:
Thanks.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, guys, I’m really excited to talk about this. I’ve been aware of Agrability, and done a little bit of work with you, seen some presentations and other stuff, but I really want to dig in and learn a whole lot more. Before we get into that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?

Paul Jones:
Well, this is Paul and I’ve been working in the education and social services arenas for about 35 years. The last 24 of those have been with Purdue’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program. About 23 of those have been with Agrability.

Paul Jones:
My main focus with Agrability is helping us develop our work plan, and managing day-to-day activities. I also focus on resource development, which could mean publications, web resources, videos, webinars, in a wide variety of different topics. I also assist on the Indiana Agrability Project.

Charles Baldwin:
I’m Chuck, and I suppose it might surprise some listeners to know that my background isn’t agriculture, but it is people. Prior to working with Agrability, I spent the majority of the previous 32 years working in cross-cultural work, primarily in Western and Central Africa.

Charles Baldwin:
My responsibilities involve public speaking, fundraising, teaching leadership development, mentoring of leaders, and fostering relationships across a pretty wide range of national and ethnic lines. For 16 of those years, I was an organizer as regional director over 12 countries. It was because of my cross-cultural experience and skills that I was hired by the National Agrability Project eight years ago, as their Underserved Populations Outreach Coordinator.

Charles Baldwin:
As the Underserved Populations Outreach Coordinator, I get to work with agricultural workers in African American, Native American, and Hispanic or Latino populations, among others. I love my work, helping these farmers and ranchers impacted by disability to have a higher quality of life, it’s a great thing to do.

Josh Anderson:
Well, guys, we’ll dig into a little bit of all that as we get into this, but let’s start off by taking us back a little bit. What’s the history of Agrability? When was it started, why, and those kind of things?

Paul Jones:
At the federal level, Agrability became a USDA program through the 1990 Farm Bill. It actually started services when it was funded in 1991, so this is our 30th anniversary year. We’re part of what’s known as the Extension Service. Many people may be familiar with Cooperative Extension. It’s now under USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Paul Jones:
When the project first started in 1991, there were only eight funded state and regional Agrability projects, and there was one national Agrability project in addition to those, but currently we’ve got 21 different state Agrability projects. Then we’ve got some previously funded states that continue on as affiliate programs, and they can provide assistance through different funding means besides USDA.

Paul Jones:
But just to take you back a little farther than that, how did the idea of Agrability even get started? If you go back to the early roots of vocational rehabilitation in the US, you’re going to go back to just right after World War I, when we had a lot of veterans coming back with significant injuries, and so the Federal Rehab Act started then, first with the soldiers, and then the general population.

Paul Jones:
In the 1950s, Purdue organized what they called one-handed corn picker clubs, because of the significant number of farmers who had lost a hand or an arm in corn pickers, which were fairly dangerous machines, especially back in the 50s, and that time period.

Paul Jones:
But the first real organized program to help farmers with disabilities in an Agrability-type program was in Vermont. It was a partnership between Vermont Vocational Rehabilitation and the Vermont Extension Service, that started actually in 1966, and just recently in the past few years, ended. So, it was very long-lasting program.

Paul Jones:
At Purdue, the program started in 1979 and was known as breaking new ground. It started with a single call from a farmer with a spinal cord injury, that needed help. The program just snowballed from there. Then there was a similar program in Iowa that started in 1986.

Paul Jones:
Those were really the catalysts for getting Agrability started at the federal level in 1990, which was in the same year that the ADA was passed. It took quite a bit of encouragement from groups like Easterseals, Breaking New Ground, and some others, to motivate USDA and Congress to get Agrability at a national level. Which again, it started to function as a national program back in the early 90s.

Josh Anderson:
Very, very cool. Now, what kinds of direct services are you guys able to offer to individuals?

Charles Baldwin:
Well, I think one of the neat things about Agrability is the direct-service individual consultations that we have. These are real person-to-person visits, and we do this with anyone in agriculture who has the need. It’s regardless of race, or creed, or gender identity, or anything else. We serve anyone in agriculture who has the need.

Charles Baldwin:
When someone calls or writes Agrability and needs help that can’t just be given as information over the phone, Agrability sends out an expert to the farmer or rancher’s farm to do an onsite visit. One of Agrability’s hallmarks is that we don’t even count a farmer or rancher as a client until we’ve had the chance to visit their farm, to sit with them, maybe at the kitchen table, and listen to what they’re wanting to do, and how their impairment is affecting their ability to succeed.

Charles Baldwin:
Agrability’s success and reputation rests, I think, largely on the relationships we build with these farmers ranchers, as we work together to overcome, or at least to minimize, the difficulties they’re facing as a result of their functional limitation. Those individual consultations may take place over the phone, if it’s something simpler. The National Agrability Project has a toll-free number that anyone may call and get information, or be connected to the resources that might meet their need. That’s another service that we offer.

Charles Baldwin:
Agrability attends as many agricultural events as possible where farmers or ranchers with disabilities are likely to gather. There, we can share printed materials that are geared towards educating about things like arthritis in agriculture, or back problems. These are really common problems among farmers. Or perhaps how to protect against further harm, the secondary injuries, safety in farming and ranching operations. And just a host of other things.

Charles Baldwin:
We can also show and demonstrate a few of the assistive technologies that help the clients we work with. We also speak at many of these events, to share the news that Agrability is there for anyone in agriculture who is impacted by disability, or we may be addressing a particular issue if we’ve been requested to do so. Something like visual impairment in agriculture, or avoiding secondary injuries, or other issues. Paul, you may be able to think of others.

Paul Jones:
I think one of the things that’s important to point out is that we’re not allowed, through our USDA grants, to provide any direct funding or equipment to farmers. So, one of the things that’s important for us to do is to network with other organizations to help provide those assistive technologies, and state vocational rehabilitation is probably the single agency that we rely on the most.

Paul Jones:
So, Agrability staff need to maintain good working relationships with VR, not only in Indiana, but in other states. We’re not experts at every area, but we need to be experts at networking. Not only VR, but other organizations like Easterseals Crossroads, or other Easterseals, or Goodwills, or Centers for Independent Living. We have to know what kinds of other resources are out there, and we have to be able to help our clients tap into those.

Paul Jones:
In regard to the people we work with, obviously most farmers are going to be self-employed. Most of the people we work with are family farms. They’re smaller farms. We do get some people that are employed by a larger corporate farm, that doesn’t happen as much.

Paul Jones:
We get some people that are wanting to start out, especially some of the returning veterans that have come in back from deployments, transitioning out of the military. They want to do something different. They don’t want to be in an office or a factory. They find that working with animals, or working outside, or working with crops, or whatever, can be therapeutic, and as well as a source of employment.

Paul Jones:
We try to get people started with self-employment activities. That could be networking them with VR to help with that process. It could be getting them associated with all the USDA programs that are out there for beginning farmers. Groups like the Farm Service Agency provide a wide variety of loans for people to get started.

Paul Jones:
But again, funding is an issue with all types of services like this. Some Agrability projects are able to do some fundraising outside of their USDA funds. They might be able to provide some assistive technology or some other support that way, but again, through the USDA funds, that’s prohibited.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. I can see how that can definitely make some challenges, but I love that you guys can help them find the funding. Because for so many folks, not just in agriculture, but really everywhere, it seems like, especially when you have a disability that maybe is acquired, you don’t know what’s out there, and it’s very, very hard. So, being able to find that kind of information is, well, I guess a life-saver really.

Josh Anderson:
Now, guys, I know a lot of our listeners probably aren’t in the farming industry, probably don’t know all the things that really go into it. So, I was wondering if you could tell me, what are some of the needs that you’re able to assess and accommodate? What are some of the things that a farmer has to do on the farm that may need accommodation?

Paul Jones:
Well, obviously agriculture can be at least a physically demanding job. There’s often a lot of lifting, climbing. There’s some repetitive tasks. We really have to be able to accommodate anybody that’s got some type of functional limitation. It could be somebody with amputations, or even spinal cord injuries, other things. Often, the people we work with have conditions like arthritis and back problems.

Paul Jones:
Really, depending on the type of agriculture you’re involved in, that will determine the specific tasks that you might need to be able to accomplish. For example, here in the Midwest, we’ve got a lot of row crops, corn and soybeans, and those types of things. Those are going to be heavily dependent on large machinery, so you have to be able to access that machinery.

Paul Jones:
If you’ve got a spinal cord injury, you’ve got arthritis, other issues like that, the first step on some of these machines may be 18 to 20 inches off the ground. The reason for that is that you can’t be dragging your steps when you’re out in the field, that may be bumpy, and going up and down.

Paul Jones:
So, the steps have to be high, but that’s a barrier to a lot of people, even if they just have arthritis. So, we work with people to get lifts, or added steps, or handholds to help them get into the machinery. We’ve got a lot of those things in our Assistive Technology Database.

Paul Jones:
Obviously, if you’re working with sheep, goats, cattle, ranching, that’s a different kind of agriculture. You may need some type of a mobility device to get around, to check on your livestock, something like a utility vehicle or a heavy-duty wheelchair, or something like that.

Paul Jones:
You may need something to help restrain those animals when you need to give them vaccinations or check hooves. There are things like chutes, and squeeze chutes, and other things that can help you corral those animals. And other kinds of vaccination devices that might be easier to use for somebody that might have strength or hand limitations.

Paul Jones:
When you go to dairy production, that’s a whole different ballgame. You need, for example, ergonomic mats to stand on if you’re going to be working in a dairy parlor for hours and hours a day. It’s a hard concrete surface. You may need assistance in moving the milking devices, for example, in what they call a stanchion barn, where the milkers have to be moved from cow to cow. So, you might have an overhead track system.

Paul Jones:
Those are just a few of the things that are involved in agriculture. Of course, agriculture’s a wide spectrum. We’ve got people in Indianapolis doing agriculture in the heart of the city, we’ve got urban agriculture people that are basically working in large community-type gardens. They need different types of assistive technology. Again, we have things like that in our database.

Paul Jones:
Greenhouses, aquaponics, hydroponics, aquaculture where you’re raising fish, floriculture where you’re raising flowers, orchards are different. So, the technology depends on what kind of agriculture you’re working in, what kinds of impairments you have.

Paul Jones:
Agrability really tries to cover the wide spectrum in both the agriculture and the disability realms. So, again, people might have arthritis, they could have a sensory impairment, vision problems, hearing issues. It’s not just the physical disabilities we deal with.

Paul Jones:
We also deal with people that are suffering from behavioral, mental health problems, post-traumatic stress, other issues like that, respiratory diseases. Again, our job is to be able to fit the person’s specific need in their agricultural enterprise with the specific assistance that’s required because of their functional limitations.

Josh Anderson:
Well, that’s awesome. Paul, you brought up a lot of things that I would’ve never thought of. Really, I’m not going to lie, that question was more for me, just because I was wondering, all the things that do go into it. Because, yeah, here in Indiana, I live surrounded about three-quarters of the way by farmland. So, I know all the big equipment, and everything that goes into that part of it, but there’s so much that goes into that.

Josh Anderson:
A functional limitation can really, really make all those things challenging. I love that you guys attack all that. I didn’t even think about the urban gardens and the other things that could go into that. Now, you guys also have state and national projects. Can you tell me, what are the differences between them, and then how do they work together?

Paul Jones:
That’s correct. There are state projects, and right now there’s enough funding around the country to provide 21 of those. The reason there’s not 50 or more is, it basically breaks down to funding. So, there are state projects, and as you mentioned, the National Agrability Project.

Paul Jones:
One thing I want to point out in terms of similarities, before I talk more about the differences, is that all Agrability projects are required to be partnerships, and the grants are always held by a land-grant university. There is one in every state and territory.

Paul Jones:
Some states, especially in the Southwest, might have two land-grant universities. But, for example, here in Indiana, Purdue is a land-grant. University of Illinois. In New York, it’s Cornell. And California, it’s UC Davis. Every state has at least one. The partnership is that they have to partner with at least one nonprofit disabilities-services organization.

Paul Jones:
I think the original idea was that you’re guaranteeing at least some agricultural expertise through the land-grant university, which is usually the [inaudible 00:22:39] the agricultural expert. Then, you’re guaranteeing at least some disability expertise through your nonprofit organization. So, there’s that aspect.

Paul Jones:
Another thing that all Agrability projects have in common is that they focus on four main areas, which are education, networking, direct assistance, and marketing. We’ve talked about the direct assistance, the importance of networking. Education might involve what we’re doing right now, could be in-person workshops like our national training workshop, webinars, a wide variety there.

Paul Jones:
Then marketing is just basically letting people know what Agrability can do for them. Now, the difference is, the state projects are the main organizations that provide the direct on-farm services. They’re the ones that would go out in their state and do the farm visits that Chuck was mentioning.

Paul Jones:
Of course, they also do public awareness and education, but I think that’s probably the biggest distinction, is that the state projects are really heavily focused on those direct client services. At the National Agrability Project, our main focus is to support the state projects.

Paul Jones:
We do that through a variety of things. Again, providing resources through our website, through our Assistive Technology Database. We do the national training workshop and other regional workshops. We provide professional development through webinars. Other means, providing manuals on how to do a worksite assessment. All those types of things.

Paul Jones:
We do direct consultations with the state projects that might have questions about particular issues that are involved with a client. Another thing that the national project is charged with doing is to provide at least some limited service to people that live in states that don’t have Agrability projects.

Paul Jones:
Again, the majority of states don’t, just because of the funding issue. If you lived in a state that did not have an Agrability project, then you could call the National Agrability Project. We would at least provide you with a direction to head, get you linked up with vocational rehabilitation, some of the other programs in your state, Centers for Independent Living, [inaudible 00:25:11] projects, at least familiarize yourself with those.

Paul Jones:
Then we can answer specific questions if you have a question. “Well, what would be the best utility vehicle” or “I’ve got this problem with… I’m dealing with small hay bales and I’ve got arthritis, and what would I do to do that? Help me with that.” Those are some of the main aspects of what both the state and the national projects do.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. Very cool. I guess that’s a great way to make sure that everybody can get served, even if they don’t have a local chapter there to be able to help them out. Well, folks, that’s all the time that we have for today, but be sure to join us next week on New Year’s Eve for the exciting conclusion to our interview with Paul and Chuck from Agrability.

Josh Anderson:
For now, go on out, have a very Merry Christmas, a wonderful holiday season, and we’ll look forward to seeing you back here next week. Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject.

Josh Anderson:
Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nikol Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests, and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and [inaudible 00:26:45] over by yours truly.

Josh Anderson:
The opinions expressed by our guest are their own, and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye bye.

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