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Morrisville freshman Jacob Ax has taken a chance meeting with a man injured in an accident and turned it into an opportunity to advocate for better accessibility in the farm workplace.

Back in 2010, Ax was new to the Stockbridge Valley Central School in Munnsville, New York, when he met a friendly custodian named Randy Mennig. Ax noticed Mennig’s limp, stemming from a motorcycle accident some years before in which he lost a leg. Menning’s dreams of working on a farm were challenged.

Inspired by Mennig, Ax researched accessible farming options, and presented his case in 2016 in a speech at the FFA state and national conventions, the Madison County Farm Bureau, the Center of Agricultural Medicine and Health, Bassett Healthcare, and even at the American Farm Bureau Convention. He has traveled as far as Arizona and Indiana to present his speech.

“As technology grows, my dream is to see more adaptations for agricultural equipment become readily available to those in need,” Ax said in his speech. “GMOs, cloning of animals, GPS and precision farming… while all of these are hot topics in agriculture, I feel as though an important topic has never made the headlines: constructing accessible tractors.

“I anticipate that in the future, redesigned machinery can improve the lives of veterans who serve our country and for farmers like Randy who have a passion for serving the agricultural community.” 

Ax’s research found that, even with existing accessibility plans, there was little actually in the field. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor, 13 million individuals are affected by accessibility challenges and 288,000 are unable to complete essential tasks.

“If we discovered a way to modify equipment already owned by farmers to meet their needs, they could keep farming for years after a tragic accident.”  

He cited one-handed and prosthetic tools and a tractor hand clutch assembly as a few of the ideas that would greatly benefit farmers.

“Randy was unable to pursue his passion because there are currently no readily-available adaptations to assist him in his condition and turn his lifelong dream into a reality,” Ax said in his speech. “With new advances in agriculture, potentially, we will have fewer farm accidents than in the past, but for farmers already affected by an accident, there needs to be ways for them to continue living their dreams.”

The eight-minute speech earned Ax first place at the 2016 FFA State Convention and a bronze medal at the 2016 FFA National Convention.