“When I was really young, I knew something was wrong,” says D’Ette Ruggles, a 50-year-old mother and grandmother from Bowman, who now lives in Bismarck. “When I would run, I would be way behind other kids, and I didn’t want to run. I was afraid to walk down the cement stairs to recess because my balance was bad.”
At age six, D’Ette’s condition was misdiagnosed, but at age 18 she learned she had muscular dystrophy, a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. It has no cure, although therapies and medication can help slow the course of the disease. Even so, D’Ette finds humor in her situation.
“Early on, people would ask me all the time if I was drunk or high. When I’d get tired of saying ‘I have muscular dystrophy,’ I would say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m drunk!’” she says with a big laugh.
Having lost her two youngest brothers to muscular dystrophy, she says the disease has brought her family very close together, including her own two children.
“You learn the value of life,” she says.
She gives God all the credit for her life, saying that statistically she should not be living today. Her faith and her family keep her going. She is determined to make the most out of each day because she knows “that there is gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Five years ago, she and her husband divorced, and she moved to Bismarck where she was determined to be on her own. She does live alone in her home with scheduled visits from caregivers and the help of assistive technology.
With limited mobility and function in her arms and hands, D’Ette wanted to have better use of her cell phone. After watching a demonstration by Tami Ternes, an assistive technology consultant from North Dakota Assistive, D’Ette quickly introduced herself.
North Dakota Assistive, formerly IPAT, is a non-profit organization that works to bring assistive technology to all North Dakotans that need it—with no regard to age, needs, location, or disability. Assistive technology (AT) is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product being used to improve, maintain, or increase one’s functional capability. Working one-on-one with individuals, and teaming with other agencies and organizations across the state, higher levels of independence are achieved.
With offices in Mandan and Fargo, North Dakota Assistive is a statewide program offering equipment demonstration centers, a short-term equipment rental program, AT funding programs, a used equipment program, telecommunications programs, a device distribution program, Vocational Rehabilitation Transition program, trainings, and AT consultations.
Through a Bremer Foundation grant, the program launched a Home First showroom in Mandan last July, making it possible for people to test a multitude of ultra-low-tech to very high-tech gadgets in all areas of a home to see what can be specifically useful for them.
For D’Ette, North Dakota Assistive created a moveable clamp with a mounting system. This slim unit connects easily to her wheelchair, her phone rests nicely in its mount, and her cell phone connects to a switch. Rather than trying to carefully tap the icons on her phone with her finger, she is able to use the switch to manipulate the phone and access the apps she wants to use.
The barrier and frustration has been greatly diminished, creating that deeper independence D’Ette works hard for. She is grateful for North Dakota Assistive and the creativity they bring into making people’s lives better.
“They can help people be at home, doing things they otherwise could not do,” says D’Ette. “It’s so amazing. People just don’t know what’s out there—it just blows your mind.”
To learn more about the program, visit ndassistive.org or call 1-800-895-4728.
Jamie Christensen is a full-time real estate agent, a communications and marketing professional, wife, and mom. Making things easier and possible for everyone is a passion of hers as she is mom to a spunky little boy with Down syndrome.