At first glance, it’s a simple snapshot: A few dozen attendees of the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days trade show have settled into their seats on a tractor-hitched wagon, ready to be tugged around the trade show’s sprawling Wood County grounds.
But among them is a man in a wheelchair with a gleaming smile. When Nancy Esser saw the photograph, she became emotional. It’s evidence of an opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible – even a few years ago – without the concerted efforts of her staff at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station (MARS) and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“I was overcome with pride,” says Esser, superintendent and herd manager at MARS, recalling the photo of her staff’s wagon on loan at the event. “Our highly skilled staff worked to create this tram, and it was used exactly the way we intended. There was a feeling of joy that this individual was able to easily be a part of the group of observers going out to view the field demonstrations.”
In 2016, the MARS staff began thinking about the tall, “bleacher style” wagons that have been used at field days and farm tours for decades.
“They can be difficult for people to get into due to the height of them,” Esser says. “Scaling the bleachers kept some folks off the tours because they just couldn’t climb that wagon.”
MARS agricultural research equipment operators Steve Roberts (now-retired) and Tom Brueggen disassembled one of the station’s bleacher style wagons, repurposed the materials, and built a much safer low-profile wagon with slip-resistant running boards.
Then, in early 2018, CALS and the Agricultural Research Stations (ARS) consulted with UW–Madison’s McBurney Disability Resource Center for training on accommodating visitors with physical and sensory disabilities at all ARS events. After the training, MARS staff and ARS director Mike Peters committed to making a second low-profile tram – one that was truly accessible to people with mobility impairments.
Brueggen and agricultural project supervisor Scott Fischer designed a wheelchair ramp, as well as a removable bench to make room for such mobility devices. Then equipment operator Jake Oertel and Brueggen got to work, fabricating the wagon from the designs. The accessible wagon was complete in time for use at the research station’s summer events, and Wisconsin Farm Technology Days.
This year, CALS and ARS communications also began including public notifications to assure individuals with disabilities that they can request accommodations at all ARS facilities, along with relevant contact information for each facility mentioned. These efforts, consistent with the Wisconsin Idea, are helping make information and research generated by the college accessible to as many people as possible, and are a fitting way for a land grant university to meet the expectations of the USDA for federal programs.