Case Study #4

Personal/Family Background
At time of initial contact, client was 55 years of age, married, and living on the farmstead, but was not actually farming. He had already made the choice to no longer farm as an occupation. Introduction and referral had been made by a vocational rehabilitation counselor, as the individual had already been their client for a year.

Farming Operation
Prior to onset of disability, this person had been farming about 300 acres in central Illinois. Consisting mostly of corn and soybean production, and being a relatively small operation, this individual ran, and was elected, as his township’s road commissioner about two years prior to his becoming disabled. After his mobility was severely affected by a blood clot, and during his period of recuperation and rehabilitation, this person decided to quit farming and concentrate on pursuing his road commissioner position full-time.

Physical Limitation
A spinal stroke at level T-3 caused almost total paralysis of the lower extremities of this individual. Being an extremely large man, manual or power wheelchairs were not indicated. He predominately uses a powered scooter for mobility at his place of work and at home. With grab bars, etc. he can stand momentarily during transfers, and even take a small step, but no more than that. Although his job requires him to sometimes spend several hours in the cab of an implement such as a road grader, he claims to have no physical difficulty in doing so.

Career Decision/Priority Needs
In choosing to redirect his occupational pursuits, this person had changed the setting of his work but his needs remained quite similar. He still needed access to the equipment he intended to operate, and the building in which he would be working. At the time of initial contact, this person had constructed a makeshift lift with the assistance of the one full-time employee at the township garage. While functional, the wire cable winch-operated chairlift was very unsafe, and required the employee to be there to help him get in and out of the implement each time. The immediate need was a much safer and independently functioning means of accessing the several pieces of equipment this man would need to operate. This included the road grader, dump truck, bucket (end) loader, and perhaps a smaller utility tractor. Complicating factors were that this individual did not own the equipment, the township could not afford to modify the equipment for him, and being an elected position he may only have the job for a limited time.

In this case, because of the nature of the equipment and the job situation, considering a separate lift for each implement was not viable. Therefore, a single means of access was the next best option. The client had already begun heading in that direction with the making of the lift he had, it just needed further refinement for increased safety and usability. By contacting and coordinating efforts with the manufacturer of a commercially available seat lift designed for use with farm machinery, a unique prototype unit evolved. The end result was a self-propelled and independently operating seat lift which the person could transfer onto from his scooter. He would then drive the wheeled (casters) platform into position and access the implement by using a hand operated control to raise and maneuver the seat lift into position for him to then transfer to the seat of the implement. Both drive and lift functions were each powered by rechargeable batteries, so by plugging the unit into a wall outlet at night it would be ready to run every morning. Not only did this allow access to the equipment, it also benefited him by enabling access to tool panels, cabinets, and other areas of the garage where he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to reach. It further allowed him to participate in certain maintenance work, which previously had been done completely by the employee. Mostly though, the device provided him with a much greater degree of independence to perform his job.

Safety Considerations
During the design of this unit, a major consideration was eliminating any possibility for it to “tip over” when fully extended. As mentioned, this man was very large, so a counterbalance of an appropriate size was necessary as the lift was capable of raising almost 8 feet off the floor and reach out over 4 feet. This was accomplished by incorporating concrete into the 6-inch steel framework of the base. A seat belt kept him securely in the seat during operation. For the periods of time he would be operating the equipment at points away from the garage site, a variety of communication devices made it possible to contact everyone from his employee to the county sheriff. Hand controls were added to the dump truck, which had an automatic transmission, and other implements were new enough that few control modifications were needed. Fire extinguishers were mandatory items in every cab. During ensuing winter months after acquiring the lift, the client was able to improve on his already recognized reputation of “doing a good job” as commissioner. So much so, that by the following April he was reelected to another term by a landslide 4 to 1 margin!