All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2003

Counselors can help keep farmers on the job

October 13, 2003
Heather Lilienthal
Iowa Farm Bureau

It’s harvest time and things are moving quickly at Max Rodemeyer’s farm near Latimer. The soybeans have been combined and corn harvest is about to begin. Things won’t slow down on the 900-acre operation for quite awhile.

That’s Max’s biggest challenge: keeping up to speed. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) nearly 20 years ago, the effort needed to keep up with the whirlwind of harvest activity is great and it grows each year as the disease progresses.

Max’s MS causes numbness and fatigue, which forces him to slow down. Slowing down isn’t an option for most farmers and Max wasn’t sure if he would be able to continue farming.

After his wife learned about the Iowa AgrAbility Project from a co-worker, he decided to make the call. When he met with his first contact, Easter Seals’ Rural Solutions program, Max was prepared to learn how to exit farming.

Instead, he has found programs and people who wanted to prevent such an exit. He worked with Easter Seals, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS).

Keeping people at work

The Iowa AgrAbility Project helps keep Max and hundreds of other Iowa farm families where they belong: working on the farm. AgrAbility is partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Financing of farm modifications is often provided through the state DVRS.

With the mission “to work for and with individuals who have disabilities to achieve their employment, independence and economic goals,” the DVRS has been an important aspect of Max’s success in remaining on the farm. Allen Geilenfeld, counselor in the DVRS Mason City office, served as Max’s connection.

After meeting with Rural Solutions, Max learned that he could make equipment modifications to help conserve his energy and make things easier. A visit from a housing specialist from ISU Extension offered suggestions regarding possible home modifications. The DVRS was the last step, helping the Rodemeyers finance some of the suggested modifications and alterations.

The Mason City DVRS office serves seven counties, and Geilenfeld covers Franklin County. The office serves between 800 and 900 clients each year. Iowa has 14 DVRS offices and 32 satellite offices that work with 13,091 cases as of Oct. 1. (See sidebar for locations and contact information.)

Vocational plans

“We help them develop a vocational plan,” explains Geilenfeld. “Some people with disabilities may need to consider a different career path or alter their current job. With farmers, almost 100 percent of them want to remain (working) on the farm.”

He says that while Rural Solutions and ISU Extension provide technical expertise, the DVRS provides direct funding, most often from the vendors who provide the equipment. Equipment ranges from tractor modifications; equipment adjustments, such as grain bin stairs; or finding funds for prosthetic devices. With DVRS assistance, Max received funding for grain bin stairs and a Kawasaki Mule ATV that helps him get around his farm.

“We even work to have the vendor complete the necessary installation,” explains Geilenfeld. If vendor assistance isn’t available, the DVRS (funded by state and federal funds) may offer direct funds.

Modifications aren’t limited to outside machinery or facilities. The DVRS may be able to provide financial assistance to remodel a bathroom in the case of a farmer who uses a wheelchair.

New mentality

Impediments themselves also vary. A disabling condition may be depression or a learning disability or a loss of mobility or vision.

“Farming is their business and their life. They’ve grown up with it, and it isn’t easy to get past the ‘I’ll pull myself up by my own bootstraps’ mentality,” says Geilenfeld. “We often make contact with people after they have been referred to us.”

Geilenfeld sometimes visits farms or arranges appointments at his Mason City office. He also offers office time every Friday at the Franklin County courthouse in Hampton. The initial visit holds no obligations, but allows both parties to discuss concerns. Clients submit an application to help determine their (income) eligibility.

Steven Faulkner, DVRS supervisor in Mason City, says it is vital for the agency to have qualified rehabilitation counselors assisting with the process.

“They help deal with the disability factor and the personal impacts of that disability,” he explains.

Faulkner and Geilenfeld also emphasize that their goal is to develop an individualized employment plan.

“These are not our hopes and dreams,” says Geilenfeld. “We want to help them achieve their goals.”


The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) helps people with disabilities by assessing interests and abilities to find the right job; teaching about adaptive aids and techniques to do the job; identifying what a client needs to do to improve chances for independent living; teaching job skills for specific careers; and helping a client start his or her own business.

You can contact the Mason City office at 641-422-1551 or visit the Web site at

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