Colorado State Cooperative Extension Agrability Program Helps Famer with Multiple Sclerosis

Doug Shotton of Eads, Colo., has been farming his entire life.  Growing up on a wheat farm of more than 5,000 acres has provided demanding and physical work – work that he loves.

His life as a farmer changed forever when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis almost 10 years ago.  

MS is a chronic and sometimes progressive disease that attacks the central nervous system. The disease attacks tissues in the brain and spinal cord and affects nerve function, resulting in problems ranging from mild numbness and difficulty walking to paralysis and blindness.

MS has made day-to-day duties both difficult and frustrating for Shotton. He had difficulty getting onto the tractors when his legs just didn’t want to work, and lately everything is difficult. His condition has worsened since the wheat was planted last year, and he has since been wheelchair bound.  

Four years after his diagnosis, Shotton and his wife, Connie, were introduced to AgrAbility by the Rocky Mountain MS Center in Denver

AgrAbility is a joint program between Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and Colorado Easter Seals. The program provides information, services and education to agricultural families with one or more people who are affected by physical limitations or a disability. Farming and ranching are demanding, strenuous and hazardous professions. AgrAbility and modern technology can help ranchers and farmers like Shotton find effective ways to overcome and compensate for their disabilities and continue doing what they love. The program provides workshops across Colorado that are designed to give farmers and ranchers information and to help families understand the limitations and frustrations created by disabilities.

"AgrAbility is a critical program because it is designed to help farmers and ranchers with disabilities continue their work in agriculture," said Bob Fetsch, Colorado State Cooperative Extension human development specialist and coordinator of the workshops.  

AgrAbility helped Shotton by providing steps to put on his tractors so that he could more easily climb up and down without help. Before finding out about the program, Shotton said that it was a struggle to get onto the tractor and he needed someone to help him. When the Shotton’s traded tractors, AgAbility was quick to put steps on the new one. The program also provided Shotton with a mobile radio he uses to keep in touch with his wife and hired help when he’s out in the field.

Shotton is working with a therapist twice a week and is seeing improvement. His goal is to be able to climb on and off the tractor without help next season and to once again get out into the fields.

For more information about AgrAbility or a workshop schedule, call Fetsch at Colorado State Cooperative Extension at (970) 491-5648.


Colorado State University Cooperative Extension brings the resources of the university to you. As part of a nation-wide system, we call upon the latest research to help Coloradoans learn more about gardening and commercial horticulture, healthy eating, personal finances, community resources, agricultural technology, food safety, dealing with changes in their community, family relationships and managing small acreages and natural resources. Our youth development program annually reaches more than 115,000 children in Colorado. Our 57 county offices, serving 59 Colorado counties, help people use university expertise on the job, at home and in their community.

Additional information

AgrAbility Workshops in your area: Call Colorado State Cooperative Extension at least ten days before the workshop you wish to attend to register. Pre-registration will include a box lunch between sessions.

Note: Registration for all workshops is due a week before each workshop and only those who have pre-registered will receive a free box lunch.

For more information about the AgrAbility program or to register, call (970) 491-5648.  

Morning sessions, scheduled 9 a.m.-noon, are on "AgrAbility: Ranch/Farm Safety and Farming/Ranching with Arthritis." These sessions are for farmers and ranchers with disabilities and their family members.

Afternoon sessions, scheduled 1-4 p.m., are on "AgrAbility: Use of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Client Assistance Programs to Keep Farmers/Ranchers with Disabilities in Agriculture." These sessions are for professionals who work with ranchers and farmers with disabilities.

This winter’s Colorado AgrAbility Workshops are scheduled as follows:

– Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2003, Pagosa Springs

– Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003, Cortez

– Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2003, Delta

– Thursday, Dec. 4, 2003, Craig

– Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004, Rocky Ford

– Friday, Jan. 23, 2004, Monte Vista

– Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2004, Sterling

– Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, Greeley