Robin Springer (left) talks with Jill Sump (center) and Carla Wilhite at the Celebrate Life with Freedom and Fun senior living conference. (Staff Photo by ANDY CARPENEAN)

By Cass Rains

Staff Writer



Senior citizens learned of assistance and technology that could further extend their involvement in their family farms and other activities Friday at the Celebrating Life with Freedom and Fun senior living conference.

At the event in Cherokee Strip Conference Center, seniors gathered for an all-day event filled with seminars and presentations to help them get more from their daily activities.

Members of Oklahoma AgrAbility were on hand to give the presentation "AgrAbility and Assistive Technology for Farming Families."

The presentation, by Carla Wilhite and Jill Sump, covered topics ranging from newly modified technologies available to the public to safer gardening methods and tips for helping to battle arthritis.

"The average age of Oklahoma farmers is about 56," said Wilhite, projects specialist and former occupational therapist. "There are fewer farms in Oklahoma now than in the previous few decades.

"There are about 75,000 to 80,000 farms remaining in Oklahoma, and they are still a major contributor to the Oklahoma economy."

According to AgrAbility, about 17,000 Oklahomans working in agriculture experience injuries that limit their ability to perform essential farm tasks. Nationally, 288,000 farm and ranch workers between the age 15 and 79 have a disability.

There are about 17,000 in Oklahoma with an impairment that limits their farm work, Wilhite said.

Wilhite presented information about adaptive technology ranging from chair lifts in tractors to steel stairs welded in truck beds.

Wilhite said a lot of farmers she helps have ideas or know how they need to adapt equipment for their needs but often find simpler or already manufactured solutions.

"We try to offer reliable information to farmers so they can get back out on their farms and get back to work," she said.

Sump, whose presentation covered gardening, also gave seniors tips for battling arthritis through better equipment use and proper tool selection.

"Plan your day carefully," Sump said in her presentation. "Consider the pacing and take rest breaks."

Sump also told seniors to schedule big jobs during the "best time" of the day.

"Ask for help," Sump said. "Don't hesitate to ask for a hand when doing a bigger job."

Sump also told seniors how to select the right tools and to consider a tool's grip width and the length of its handle before using it for a job.

"I think it's wonderful the industry is making equipment to help people get an active role," said seminar attendee and Enid resident Thad Slonecki.

Slonecki also took interest in the modified tools used in a demonstration during the presentation. Garden spades with pistol-grip handles and shovels with an extra handle were used to show how working smarter is better than working harder.

"These tools they brought out here are wonderful," Slonecki said. "They let people get out there and not worry about their infirmities."

AgrAbility is funded in part by Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension, ABLE Tech, an assistive technology program, and Langston University's Small Farm Outreach Program.

Programs such as AgrAbility were first funded through a 1990 Farm Bill. Twenty-five states fund programs like AgrAbility through grants received from the Department of Agriculture.

AgrAbility can be reached by phone at (405) 744-5182, or toll free at (888) 885-5588.



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