Josie Clarke is on a mission to change perceptions of people with a disability in agriculture

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Agronomist, Research Assistant, PhD candidate in gene editing for crop improvement, and passionate disability advocate, Josie Clarke is a powerhouse. The founder of Ability Agriculture, she’s on a mission to give a voice to people with a disability, to change perceptions of their capacity to work in agriculture and create opportunities for them to be involved in the sector they love.

Founded in 2021, Ability Agriculture is a cause close to Josie’s heart. When a devastating truck accident left her father a paraplegic, Josie was confronted with the reality of life on the land for people with a disability.  

“It is my family’s story that inspired Ability Agriculture. My dad became a paraplegic when I was 5 years old, and at that time it was very much the idea we should sell the farm and do something else.” 

The family stayed on their mid north coast farm, with Josie and her siblings juggling extra responsibilities to support their mum to run the beef grazing operation. But Josie’s dad was forced to retrain for a desk job.  

She wanted more for her people like her dad, and so, Ability Agriculture was born.  

An online community with over 2,000 members from Australia and abroad, Ability Agriculture raises awareness and provides opportunities for those with disabilities in the agricultural sector. An interactive online platform, it welcomes individuals, family members and agribusinesses to share their employment experiences; the adaptations or supports that have enabled people with disabilities to keep working in the sector; and to voice the changes they want to see to make agriculture a more inclusive workplace.  

“We need to ensure those incredible voices are being heard,” said Josie.  

While she hopes one day to have Ability Agriculture recognised as the representative voice for disability in the ag sector – driving better industry policy, leadership development and workforce planning outcomes – the individual, personal stories are where Ability Agriculture’s beating heart lies.  

From the “Words of Advice” to the “Take Overs” – a ‘day in the life’ social media snapshot shared directly by someone with a disability – Ability Agriculture is amplifying the voices of those who have long been under-represented in the sector.  

With post reaches of up to 375,000 viewers, Ability Agriculture is challenging, and changing, perceptions around agricultural career opportunities for people with a disability.   

“Agriculture has a diversity of roles and sharing stories of those with disabilities is a start to increasing awareness and inclusivity in the sector,” said Josie. 

“Ability Agriculture is not only showing that agriculture can be a truly inclusive and accessible career option, but also creating a positive, proactive conversation around the capacity of people with disability.”  

“Around 75% of people with disabilities don’t disclose their disability to an employer and, to me, that shows a fear that maybe they won’t be hired if they let it be known they need some extra support. We need to change that.”  

The 2022 NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner will use her $15,000 Westpac grant to create an accessible Ability Agriculture website – including an employment page that highlights inclusive agricultural jobs – and deliver more awareness-raising initiatives that extend this important conversation.  

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