Daniel J Vance

She said she is a much better person after breaking her ankle.

Mary Rueter is general manager of the DeWitt (Iowa) Observer, a newspaper that publishes this column. Last November, Rueter and family members were attending an Iowa State football game. “It had rained that week and was very cold,” said 64-year-old Rueter in a telephone interview. “We have season tickets, and they allow us to sit on a hillside. I was heading to a restroom before the game. My son told me to watch my step because it was slippery.”

While walking downhill, her left leg slid out from under her and instantly she was sitting on her right ankle.

Eventually, a surgeon inserted a plate and seven screws and said she couldn’t bear weight on her injured ankle for ten weeks. To get around, she rented a “roll about,” a walker that allowed her to rest her right leg while pushing with the left.

“It was a real eye opener in terms of accessibility,” she said. “I learned all about doors too heavy to open, doors not well-placed, narrow doorways, and up and down steps. Of course, this happened during an Iowa winter. When it was icy, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t take the chance of falling and breaking the other leg.”

She lived alone, and had to depend on others. For one, she couldn’t drive, and had to ask others to get her to and from work.

“You hate asking people to do every little thing for you, like getting groceries or taking you to the doctor,” she said. Her closest relative lived thirty minutes away. Her 10-year-old granddaughter came up on weekends to help with laundry.

She found herself taking on the role of an advocate. “We recently had a street construction project in front of our newspaper building that left a step that wasn’t there before,” she said. “I told the city they couldn’t leave it. We needed a ramp. We have people coming in here using walkers, canes, and motorized wheelchairs, even moms with baby strollers.”

Recently, she told the city manager of her desire to serve on an Americans with Disabilities Act committee to help oversee city accessibility issues.

She said, “I’ve always thought it must be difficult for people to overcome their disabilities. But after having rolled a mile in their shoes, I can empathize even more.”

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