Assistive Technology for Kansans (ATK) serves veterans and active duty soldiers transitioning out of the service into civilian life through farming and gardening providing them with socialization opportunities as well as knowledge and skills to gain employment. ATK narrowed in on gardening to help veterans due to its documented therapeutic benefits. Veterans have also expressed interest in working on a farm after military service. ATK has experience training veterans in agricultural projects, and holds a recreation and employment grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration. ATK also holds an AgrAbility grant and a grant on inclusive gardening. ATK developed a partnership with Fort Riley, a military base in northeastern Kansas, to build a hoop house. ATK’s AgrAbility program coordinator at the time had extensive knowledge of hoop houses and gardening. In the hoop house, ATK’s staff demonstrate accessible gardening and adaptive tools and teach veterans how to use and maintain the tools. As a project of the Kansas AgrAbility program, ATK provides a range of typical AT program services in the hoop house. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Kansas AgrAbility program is a partnership between KSU, Southeast Kansas Independent Living, and ATK. AgrAbility projects have a strong emphasis on serving veterans with disabilities who wish to explore agricultural pursuits. It provides on-site services to help farmers, ranchers, family members, and employees with disabilities or health conditions find AT solutions and modifications that allow them to continue in their role on the farm, ranch, or production agriculture. Over 600 veterans have been served in the hoop house. Exposure to accessible and adaptive tools has taught veterans that their disability is not a barrier to agricultural and gardening work, and has increased their confidence to pursue their agricultural interests. Employment has also increased for veterans participating in this program.
If an AT program is considering implementing a similar initiative in their state or territory, ATK staff recommends thinking through some essential issues: What do the veterans need in your area? What are their interests and what are your program’s strengths? Take a broader look at gardening, production, agriculture, ranching, or fishing. Programs should work with veterans as they do with any other group: Consider what their needs are and what is naturally available in your area. Rather than going on base as ATK has done, staff recommends looking for other ways to reach veterans. ATK went on base because they had allies at Fort Riley who could overcome obstacles to bring the project to fruition. However, working with a military base may be difficult and time-consuming for other AT programs if they do not have established relationships. A critical point to keep in mind when working with veterans is to follow through. ATK has received feedback from veterans that many organizations try to help them but do not follow through on their promises.