Blogging Against Disablism 2013

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2013
I will be blogging for the above (even though most of my formal blog posts are about life and disability/impairment!).

Some articles from previous years:

2012 : Disabled Farming Barriers

2010: Accessible Parties on Twitter

2009: Gadgets and Innovation

2008: Education – Disabled Students Grants – my experience


BADD 2012 post

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012




Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012 – I have decided to rewrite some research I did a
few years ago exposing the lack of support for disabled agricultural workers in the UK.

Andy farmer

Diversity within British farming 

Because there is such variety within the agricultural industry, there are many opportunities for disabled people on many levels.


It is coming to that time of the year when thousands of people will be exhibiting or attending their County Show – a showcase and celebration of the essential role of agriculture in the UK. If you have ever visited your County Show, they are a great opportunity to engage people in the many aspects of agricultural and country life. However, there is usually a concerning omission which I will highlight in my blog today. Considering the statistics below, the needs of disabled agricultural workers are going unheard – and unsupported.

Agricultural employers (for casual, seasonal or full time workers) have to make reasonable adjustments and comply with disability discrimination law – but do they?



Attitudes towards farming and disability

The prevalent, stereotypical, view that farming equated to tractors and fields of animals. Adding disabled people into the mix, most frequently resulted in comments relating to wheelchair users and their ability to drive tractors. Indeed, definitions of disabled people still focus on wheelchair users. For example the association was seen in the cynical responses to disabled campaigners using the reference of ’11 million disabled people in Britain’ being “I hardly ever see anyone in a wheelchair”. More recent evidence also suggests that British attitudes to disability still focuses, wrongly, on visible physical impairments (DRC, 2001; NatCen, 2007).

Children’s perceptions of farming – strong, male and needs to drive tractors.

Children’s perception of farming is equally unbalanced. Putting aside disability stereotypes, the 2008 UK annual study of the portrait of a farmer revealed that 25% of children aged 7-10 years old thought farming was not a job for a woman, 39% believed a farmer had to be big and strong and 82% said it involved driving a tractor (ChildWise, 2008). The thought of a disabled farmer would thus be particularly challenging for younger pupils and discourage young disabled adults from considering agricultural work. Exhibits at Country Shows for example do little to proactively draw attention away from these faulty and inflexible generalisations that occur across age groups.

How are disabled people involved in agricultural work? 

Following some research a few years ago, I found involvement occurred through two main avenues. Firstly day care opportunities and respite care (either privately or through social services) and secondly supported employment schemes. Although these are open to people with a range of impairments they are heavily weighted towards adults with learning difficulties. Some mainstream involvement happens through generic volunteering opportunities. However, these are limiting in that there is little support for organisations or individuals with regards to ensuring equality within volunteering (Scope, 2005; DRC, 2006b; Watch, 2008). Table 2, below summarises key areas of involvement.


Care Farming

Care farming is highly profiled from a general internet search and discussion with disabled people. The aim is to ‘combine care of the land with care of people’ (NCFI, 2008). Commercial farms and woodland are utilised for activities in partnership with farmers, health and social care agencies. The spectrum of farm types range from those focused on delivery of care to farming production. Engagement is with a range of people including young offenders, those recovering from substance misuse and a range of disabled people. Although the UK focus is on a more medical/therapeutic model or view of impairment, this in itself should not deter from the valuable way that the initiative involves disabled people in normal farming activities. In fact, many such initiatives in Germany have a stronger social emphasis in their literature yet at the heart of care farming, provide much the same method of involvement as those in the UK (NCFI, 2007a). In Italy, the term ‘Social Farming’ is preferred and there is a focus on wider community benefits and full inclusion such as honey or wine making that involves older people with dementia that would be unheard of in a UK (NCFI, 2007a). A study at the University of Essex (Hine et al, 2008) found that 3000 people each week accessed therapeutic work on 40 UK farms. Also, that this could be significantly higher with associated community benefits as those found in thousands of farms across European countries. The strength of these initiatives in the UK are such that they should be included in the exhibit. However, this should be based on the Italian model of mutually beneficial and inclusive farm involvement. The exhibit could help move care farming away from the paternalistic attitudes and language used by the National Care Farming Initiative (NCFI:2007b) when they cited the Essex report (Hine et al, 2008). They spoke about how the quality of life could be improved for “sufferers of… psychotic diseases…behavioural and learning problems [when] one care farmer said, ‘it’s nice to see farming put a smile on someone’s face’.”. Unfortunately, the key reasons to promote care farming, according to board member Prof. Dr. Kim Jobst, was to be able to prescribe farming instead of prozac in a bid to save National Health Service funding (NCFI:2007b). Working in partnership with organisations who hold this view of involvement as a cost saving exercise would require them to have significant mind-set change. This brings challenges to both consultant, commissioners and partner organisations.

Education and training

Colleges that provide inclusive training in horticulture and farming skills are often linked to social care schemes. Therefore there is a high likely hood of work opportunities being on farms that also provide ‘day opportunities’. It is unknown what proportion go on to take up jobs that would be equally available to none disabled people in the general marketplace. It is also important to look at inclusive education from another perspective. That is to say that to provide equality, courses may have to address the specific needs of disabled people that would not necessarily be part of a mainstream syllabus. Disabled people may require specific skills in relation to using an adapted piece of farm machinery for example or techniques that require training of personal assistants to work alongside the person to achieve the same result. In the next section, we will look specifically at employment of disabled people within agriculture in the UK, and some of the ways farm workers with impairments are supported in the USA.

Disabled people employed within farming

Employment of disabled people within farming was explored in response to two key questions. Firstly, why disabled people may be reluctant to take up agricultural work opportunities and secondly, what support is available for farm workers to continue working if they acquire an impairment (or indeed to prevent impairment). The answers to these questions identifies some of the key barriers to be addressed.

Employment in agricultural industries.

Agriculture (Forestry, farming and fisheries) makes up around 2% of the UK labour force (ONS, 2008). Therefore, promotion of the UK’s smallest labour market to a minority work force group (around 19.2 % of the working population (ONS, 2002)), is least likely to attract resources needed to sustain equality in this field. From a disabled population work force of 7.1 million, just over half were in employment in 2002 (Table 3). Some experienced work related limitations yet not all met the DDA definition of a ‘disabled person’ at that time. In this sense, the exhibit would need to recognise the needs of all people who experience work related limitations due to an impairment (regardless of meeting the DDA definition).

With regards to employment in agriculture, a key indicator is the Labour Force Survey of Spring 2005 (IES, 2005). In this year, 1.3% of none-disabled people of working age were employed in ‘Agriculture and Fishing’. Significantly, 1.8% of disabled people of working age were ‘work limited’ in the same sector. This figure is reliant on an employer providing disability related data for such surveys. It could be much higher due to poor reporting and new definitions of ‘disability’ that have since been introduced in the DDA (1995).

Disabled farming workforce

Some agricultural statistics were presented, making a powerful statement about the need to ensure employment is a key focus of the exhibit. Although 88% of farm units employ less than 4 people (HSE & RASE, 2001), each are responsible in ensuring equality under all aspects of the DDA (whether seasonal, full or part-time workers). With nearly 483,000 workers across the UK (ONS, 2008), it was revealed that 80% of those workers may be disabled people who experience inequality and barriers at work [See Table 4 at the beginning of this report].


In 2001 the Health and Safety Executive report also expressed that there was a “Gross under-reporting of illness / disability” amongst the farming industry (HSE & RASE, 2001). Irish data also supported this (TResearch, 2008).

Isolation and lack of disability identity can result in many giving up agricultural work and closing businesses.

It is essential that there should first be a focus on improving the support for those already working in the industry. Without appropriate support, it is possible that many farm workers will attempt to continue work without appropriate equipment, financial support or general assistance which they may be entitled to. Rural farms can be particularly isolating. Cultural farming attitudes of ‘carry on regardless’ and a reluctance to seek medical attention significantly increases the unnecessary risk of further injury or long term health problems (IDeA, 2008; HSE, 2007). It is likely that agricultural workers who experience these difficulties do not identify themselves as ‘disabled’ and further isolate themselves from sources of information and support from the wider disabled community.

Independent living support for farming families – a unique blending of work and social life.

We need to develop a strategy that enables existing disabled employees (including self employed farm workers) to continue employment within agriculture and equal participation in rural farming life. One of the key differences to other work forces is that for some farming families, work does not stop or start at a particular time each day. It is a continuum where business, social and home life can all merge. Hence, it might be as important, work wise, to meet with other farm workers and neighbours at a local pub or market as it is to do the daily health checks on livestock. It is all part of ‘farming life’ that sustains businesses – just as much as participation and attendance at shows and farming events. However, the government employment support fund ‘Access to Work’ (DWP, 2008) would be unlikely to view accessing a pub or rural show as part of ‘work’ that meets their funding criteria. Here, the move to Individual Budgets (PSU, 2005) is worth promoting for personalised support thats suits all aspects of farm life. This involves merging social care, equipment, health and work funding streams. Pooling available funds could benefit disabled farmers who require substantial support by enabling individuals to prioritise how best to use funds, to meet merging life needs. Some farm workers are entitled to local authority social care support and hence personal budgets (arranging and designing their own assistance / care package) may be a good starting point. For others, personalised health services may be very relevant.

How are farmers supported in the USA and what can we learn?

The level of support and recognition of the specific needs of disabled farmers and ranchers in the USA were examined due to the marked difference to the UK. Many states have an agricultural based economy and hence there is an invested interest in ensuring appropriate support and assistance. The national programme, AgrAbility (2008a), is part of the US Department of Agriculture (and many individual state programmes of the same name) and aims to remove barriers to farming and promote independence for disabled people employed in agriculture. They provide specific services (Table 5) and work in


partnership with local disability organisations, universities and other grant makers. Their journal is very practical and inspiring as their are examples/case studies from people with high level impairments who are managing ranches and the details of how a blind lady ran her own nursery business.

Missed opportunities

I believe that these resources (video, images, case studies, e-resources, practical and technical information) could be used to develop useful and interesting exhibits at UK County Shows – to highlight what is possible. AgrAbility run exhibits at shows to highlight the need for equality for disabled workers in the industry and share expertise and have a range of excellent e-resources. County shows, local farming museums and events can be an opportunity to promote farming to disabled people and develop UK networks of disabled agricultural workers. We need to move away from seeing disabled farm workers as ‘therapy’ clients and start treating people as equals in business.

How Access to Work has helped disabled farm workers?

I made contact with Robert Stuthridge B.Sc M.Sc. who works for the organisation running the National AgrAbility programme at Purdue University Illinois. Prior to his recent appointment, he was contracted to the Access to Work Scheme for 10 years in the UK. Robert expressed that he had carried out a number of assessments of farm workers with a range of impairments (back-pain, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lower limb amputations). He found that funding was forthcoming, with a 29 year old tenant farmer receiving Access to Work funding of £115,000 for farm adaptations due to limb loss (Stuthridge, 2008).

Getting information to older farm workers

What we don’t know is how much information and support is reaching older farm workers. Interestingly, it was suggested that one method to reach older members of farming families and this who are parents could be through targeting information at their children or grand children. They could be essential in influencing parent’s attitude to seeking support (HSE & RASE, 2001:17). County shows could be tapping into children and young farmers as a way to reach out to the wider farming community.


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