NEWS

Innovative technology keeps disabled farmers on the job

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
One of the current projects students in Kody Habeck's Biological Systems Engineering program are working on is designing add-on pieces to a universal utility track chair designed to help people with disabilities get around safely in rougher terrain, on wooded trails or around the farm.

MADISON ‒ Kody Habeck knows how important mobility is for farmers, including his dad who wasn't ready to give up farming despite health issues that made navigating and performing tasks outdoors risky.  

The elder Habeck suffers from Parkinson’s and developed further complications that made it impossible for him to get around at all on the farm. Habeck says his dad had sold his cows earlier due to those challenges, but at the age of 59, wasn't ready to quit farming completely.

Thanks to Habeck, a professor in the Biological Systems Engineering department of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and his students, equipment designed and built in the classroom is helping people with disabilities to stay active and productive despite physical challenges.

One of the current projects his students are working on is designing add-on pieces to a universal utility track chair designed to help people with disabilities get around safely in rougher terrain, on wooded trails or around the farm.

In the past, Habeck's dad was able to perform routine tasks using specialized equipment. However, the onset of the latest complications prevented him from doing anything on the farm.              

“When he developed his latest challenge, I took the chair to him to use on the farm until he could get surgery to help him get around again, Habeck said. "He would have been totally inactive without that chair.”

Kody Habeck, a professor in the Biological Systems Engineering department at University of Wisconsin - Madison, demonstrates a track chair attachment created by students to address the needs of farmers and others with mobility issues during a recent meeting of the AgrAbility Advisory Council.

Habeck says the chair is designed for use in agriculture but in reality will benefit anyone who wants to get around outside and work. He points out that while the chair helps people safely get around outside, it could be designed to do specific jobs.

“Transferring from a wheelchair to another device such as this can be a challenge,” he said. “The students set out to design a transfer seat.”

He says a team of students developed several designs before deciding on which was the most practical and then began building the transfer seat itself. Next, they began working on other attachments that would make it possible to perform specific jobs from the chair, including a light duty lift and tilt attachment, useful for picking up objects up to 100 pounds, including small hay bales.

Habeck's students also designed a quick-attach system in the front, similar to that used on skid-steer loaders, making it possible to affix things like a snowplow, mower, or other tools used for a specific task.

As the students design the equipment, operator safety and simplicity is always in the forefront. Habeck says that once an attachment is designed, students continue working to simplify the system and fine tune the designs.

“The more awareness we create the better we can help farmers in the future," said Andrea Klahn, Outreach Specialist for AgrAbility. "Students learn about the need for tools that will help keep farmers keep farming despite their disabilities.”

AgrAbility works in association with UW’s Biological Systems Engineering department.  AgrAbility is a partnership between Easter Seals of Wisconsin and UW-Madison.

Students receive $250 to spend on their new designs.

The Universal Utility Track Chair ST22 was donated to the department by Action Manufacturing out of Marshall, Minn., that produces the Action Trackchair.  Kuhn North America, Brodhead, Wis., also provided support to students by performing that laser cutting of parts for one of the senior design projects.