Should Diabetes Be Officially Treated as a Disability?

Reading this story Amy Tenderich posted on her blog (which makes me feel extremely upset -not at Amy, but at what the situation she wrote about), I wonder and want to put the question out there:

Should diabetes be officially considered as a disability to protect people from situations like the one experience the person in the post by Amy.

Even before reading the article - YES. The author of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will tell you that he had conditions just like diabetes in mind when he wrote it and argued for it’s passage. The act is intended to cover not only those visible disabilities we see in people missing limbs or confined to a wheel chair, but people who have conditions that are ‘percieved’ to be a disability - like diabetes.

Employers, schools, public places should be required to make reasonable accommodations for diabetics and forbidden from discriminating against us.

Now I’ll go read the article.

Well, Im going to say yes. This happened to me last weekend (copied from my journal and edited for language)

So i had a can of diet coke on me because my blood sugar was so high it wasnt reading and i needed to keep fluids in me. we are on our way walking toward the concert (chevelle was going to be there) and the security guy wont let me up because I have a can of coke and it is a Pepsi sponsored event. So I start argueing that I will not throw it out because I need it and if they really want to stop me, go buy me a can of diet pepsi…they said no. I then explane that Im diabetic and I need it, they guy says no. At this point im causing a huge scene and he gets his supervisor OVER A FREAKING CAN OF DIET COKE! I even lift up my shirt to show them my gross fat stomach to show them the port for my pump and I dangle my medical ID in their faces. They still give me a hard time. So I told them that I will just sue their security company because its a medical liability and seeing my coach purge (which was a gift, lol) they probably see I have money and Told me that I have to smuggle it in. so my friend scott sticks it in his shorts pocket and the guy says if i get caught he didnt tell me to do that. 25 minutes later we get up there, the blood sugar still isnt reading, so I change the pump site and then go behind the porta johns and chug it, stick it under a japanese memorial sign, take pictures of it, and we go about our day.

I wasn’t going to sue them, I was just really upset and frustrated

Yes. I, myself, have dealt with diabetes discrimination, but couldn’t do anything about it at the time because I wasn’t actually hired by the company. It’s frustrating. And reasonable accomodations should be made for anyone who has a health problem, not just diabetics. It could be allergies, people with sight problems, those that deal with seizures or asthma. It is all too often that those with health problems have to deal with being discriminated against.

Could this cause an unforseen back lash? After the American Disabilities Act was adopted in the early 1990’s, my office sought to comply by having a ramp and a braille sign installed at the front of the building. Since our building was leased, was built in the 1950’s, was on a slab foundation, and had limited space, we were not required to install an ADA compliant bathroom (the law contained an exception). But, since we did not have an ADA compliant bathroom, the law stated that we could no longer offer our present bathrooms to the public.

All was well until one day one of my assistant managers was closing a loan with one of our long time customers, who sufferred from a kidney failure, etc. Mr. Customer asked if he could use our bathroom (he had used it in the past). My assistant informed him that we no longer had a “public” restroom. Mr. Customer then excused himself and walked out to the front door and unrinated off of the front porch. He then returned to the loan closing table, in a state of humiliation, apologized, and explained that due to his kidney condition he was not able to adequately control his bladder, etc. and he was afraid that he would wet his pants. When I was informed of this, I said to hell with denying people access to our non-ADA compliant bathrooms.

The intention is good, but most intentions are usually loaded with exceptions when adopted. I would hate to see diabetics (especially me) legally denied jobs because they might suffer blood sugar lows or highs, etc. Caution is in order.

I contacted the ADA recently because I flew to OH and the stewardess took my medical bag away from me on the plane and put it where i was unable to reach it. It wouldn’t have been much of a problem if I hadn’t had knee surgery a few weeks before and wasn’t on crutches, but she also took those away from me so I couldn’t get to the bag if I needed it in flight. She refused to give back to me even after I threatened her with legal action. So when I got back to AL, I reported it to the airline as well as the ADA

I’m torn on this one.

Federal law defines a disability as, “as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits or restricts the condition, manner, or duration under which an average person in the population can perform a major life activity, such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, or taking care of oneself. (An impairment or diagnosis, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute a disability: it must ‘substantially limit’ these activities.)”

I guess I tend to agree with this definition in so much as diabetes does not necessarily constitute a disability. I do think that there should be protections for diabetics and other people with medical diagnoses that require special considerations (i.e, carrying medications and supplies on planes, bringing otherwise prohibited foods/liquids into restricted areas, etc…). I also think that diabetes, or its consequences, can be a disability in certain cases.

Its a really difficult issue for me – as a type I diabetic I don’t consider myself “disabled” but I do expect certain limited protections so that I can adequately care for myself (whether that be on planes, at work, or at a concert hall).

Yes! If diabetes impairs a person’s ability to work or go to school, they should without a doubt be able to receive government benefits (including Medicare) just as people with AIDS, depression and other chronic conditions can. On the same token, we should be protected in the workplace just as mobility-impaired people are. It’s up to us to make it happen.

I only speak in regards to Type 2 diabetes since that’s my disease. I do not think Type 2 diabetes should be considered a disability at all. Type 2 isn’t fun and it isn’t convenient but the disease shouldn’t be labeled as a disability. If you have drop foot, or loss of vision because of diabetes, then by all means, you are disabled. But, being called “disabled” because you have to monitor blood sugars and take medication/insulin, just doesn’t seem appropriate. Should high blood pressure patients be called “disabled”? They self-monitor their blood pressures and take medication. Where do we draw the line with this labeling for the purpose of special rights?

It’s not victimization to expect the law to protect us from discrimination. If a person refuses to hire you solely because you’re diabetic and ‘something might happen’ you might sing a different tune. If you’re employer fired you because you might go into a coma, or embarass the company by having to leave to check your blood sugar, or might increase their health insurance premium, you’d be looking for a lawyer.

Under the law it IS a disability (see above) and employers, governments and public facilities are required to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ - such as giving you time to take a break to check your BG, giving you time to get an injection if needed, allowing you to keep medical supplies in an accessible place, protecting you from harassment on the basis of your physical conditions.

The purpose of the ADA is not to make people victims but to allow them to “live normal lives.” And to make sure employers, schools and public facilities give us room to live normal lives. The fact it that most people do not need to take multiple daily injections just to keep living. We do. The ADA prevents those who don’t from keeping us away from living a ‘normal life.’

An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. and

The phrase in BOLD is of particular relevance to diabetes because although diabetes is not a ‘disability’ in the conventional sense - you can’t spot one on sight - it is perceived by many to be a disability. Think of the sad looks and condolences you get from people who learn you are diabetic, or the stories they tell you of relatives who lost limbs and eyesight, or the things they say you’ll never be able to do. It’s all b.s, of course, but that’s the point. Because people believe that b.s. they feel justified in refusing to hire diabetics, refusing to allow them to keep medical supplies handy, or refusing to allow them to engage in some activities. That’s discrimination based on a ‘disability’ which is easy to accommodate.

They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

It is not a ‘special right’ to keep your boss from firing you because he’s scared of your disease or he doesn’t want to let you take an extra break to check your blood sugars. Assuming you’re able to perform the job, that’s what matters - not what disease you have, what sex you are, what age you are or what race you are. Sex, age and race are protected classes under the law. If the law has to call diabetes a ‘disability’ in order to afford protection from discrimination - so be it. They can call it ‘joe’, ‘rob’, ‘stephen’, or ‘susan’ for all I care.

Let’s not get hung up over the negative connotations of the word ‘disability.’ We ought to concern ourselves with the word ‘discrimination.’

A disability doesn’t have to keep anyone from working. Some people are by definition disabled and they still work. Look at the greeters at walmart. Here at our local walmart we have one that is in a wheelchair and has no legs. Obvisously that person is disabled,but she doesn’t consider herself disabled. So if you have diabetes and want to consider yourself disabled then it is a disability. The ADA does take cases of people with disability on. They went after the airline after they took my medication away from me.

I am a diabetes civil rights advocacy specialist and have done a lot of paralegal work in this area of law. First, ADA does list "disease of the endocrine sytem (which diabetes clearly is) but not diabetes specifically as qualifying for protection under ADA law. That is, all persons with diabetes are not automatically covered under ADA law. The law uses a 3 prong test as to whether something qualifies as a disability or not. Gestational diabetes is not covered under ADA law, however in some cases type 2 would qualify and in many cases type 1 does – but not always – when it comes to public access and workplace discrimination. The key to having protection under ADA laws is not the disability but how it impacts your ability to participate in normal life activities. For example, an amputee is not automatically protected if they are able to wear a prosthetic device that allows them mobility. Yet, you can also be covered under ADA laws even if you have no disability if you are presumed (treated) as if you do and there is even coverage for “discrimination by association.” But when it comes to diabetes expect a fight.

Currently, there is only one state that has passed laws specifically stating that all students with type 1 diabetes are in fact qualified as disabled under ADA and IDEA law and are therefore entitled to a Section 504 Plan and medical care at school. That state is California (read about this case). The decision (rendered August of this year) is a landmark victory as most states still deny students 504 Plans, the right to self-care or to receive care or accommodationes while at school. (You can read how I was involved in the ADA and DREDF press releases and why I took on CA schools after they nearly put my daughter into a coma at school)

Even when a person is covered under ADA law employers (with 15 or more employeers, smaller business are not required to adhere to ADA law) must only offer reasonable accommodations. Unfortunately, the sporting event Pepsi vs Diet Coke (BTW I hate Pepsi :slight_smile: was within its rights to do what they did (whether “right” or not, legally there probably was no wrong doing). A very disturbing decision was recently handed down involving a blind woman (who was clearly disabled) being barred from riding in first class on a fairy boat. Another rider (who was not disabled) had previsouly requested that first class be “pet free” at all times due to her allergies. Even though the allergy sufferer was not even on the boat that day, the blind woman was made to ride with her service dog in another class. The fairy company did change its policy three weeks later but the blind woman sued – and lost. The courts upheld that the woman was given a ride (therefore, accommodated) and that employees can make one-time decisions about refusing accommodations as long as it believes the decision to be in the best interest of others. Because the sporting arena did not deny liquid to treat highs (only Diet Coke) it would unlikely have been considered discrimination under ADA law.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration is now working hard on “ADA Revisited.” The American Diabetes Association is fighting this movement, visit to get involved but if the administration is successful it would dramatically reduce the protection diabetics (and many others) would have under ADA law (which is already limited).

Sadly, even when law clearly protects our rights, employers, schools, and public facilities still often stand in blatant violation of the law. Litigation is not always the answer (especially frivolous suits) but neither is walking away from a good fight!

AMEN Terry – very nicely put! I would really love to put your comment on my advocacy website. If I you are willing please email me privately at

But we would need to call “disabilty” something gender neutral so as not to discriminate against men or women. (Remember the movement to alternately name hurricanes after men too because women were offended natural disasteres were always given a female name?) : )

I am not a victim, nor do I play victim and do not see myself as a disabled person. But I have been discriminated against as have both my daughters with medical problems (one has kidney disease from MODY, the other type 1 diabetes). When our school district stated diabetes was not a disability (my 5 year old had type 1) they refused to offer accommodations – that is give or allow sugar checksor insulin or even glucagon in an emergency at school. How they “treated” her was if she said she felt shakey they assumed she was low and would stuff her full of marshmallows then call me to come to school. I was at school almost all day and could not work. One day Elizabeth said she was shakey. Her teacher gave her marshmallows but did not even bother to call me. Elizabeth was already high and did not need sugar she needed insulin. The teacher then sent her out into 100+ weather to play (in fairness to the teacher it was not her fault as this is what the school told her to do). I just happened to stop by the school early (I went every 2 hours to check on Elizabeth) to find her almost unconscious on the playground. They had stuffed her so full of sugar she was heavily into DKA required treatment and her blood sugar was almost 600.

Without the reasonable accommodations required under ADA law (blood sugar checks and treatment plan at school) my child is either unable to safely attend school or literally risks death each day. ADA law protects my child from this sort of discrimination. To say kids with type 1 diabetes do not need or even have protection under ADA is to give license to schools to continue refusing to take our children with diabetes. Only one sate out of 50 has adopted strict guidelines to care for children with diabetes at school. One. To say adults don’t have protection means employers can refuse to hire someone with diabetes or fire them when they have even one episode of low blood sugar on the job.

It is not enough to say we can live successfully just like anyone else if we are not given the chance to prove it. People with diabetes are often barred from opportunities, education, and programs. If there were no legal recourse there would be even more discimination against us. Without ADA laws we could not test sugars in public and would have to go hide in filfthy public restrooms to give injections. In fact, it would be impossible to ride on an airplane as it is the ADA laws that permits you to travel with your medical stuff and give yourself medical care on a plane. And, without ADA law your employer could refuse to let you have a snack when your blood sugar was low or even to go to the bathroom when your blood sugars were high.

I still love Terry’s reply best and it will be my new bumper sticker! Don’t focus on the term disabled focus on discrimination. Whether or not it is debatable that diabetes is a disability it is not debatable thay many of us have suffered harsh discrimination because we have diabetes.

I do not, by virtue of having the diagnosis of diabetes, consider myself to be limited or impaired from participating in major life activities. I do not expect unreasonable accommodations, and have never required any consideration that others in the work place would not also enjoy – perhaps I am lucky, but I have never had a job where I was restricted from the restroom, or not given breaks, etc. all protections, by the way, that are afforded to the majority of all workers under federal law.

I can imagine that there are individuals who are more substantially limited by their disease than I am (young children in school, for example) and those individuals should be given specific protections. I am lucky to have my (relative) health and I recognize that I am better off than many.

However, I think that diabetics can also contribute to the problem by expecting unreasonable accommodation. In an example that was given before, someone wanted to bring a beverage into a controlled setting and was being refused (I understand your view and in no way mean offense by using this as an example). If I am going to the movies and the ticket taker sees me trying to bring in my bottle of Sprite, I’m not pulling the diabetes card. If they don’t let me bring in my pump? Now were talking about reasonable accommodation.

I should also mention that I have traveled the world with this disease and have never required accommodation or been denied reasonable access to services, even in countries with FAR less sympathy to disability than the U.S. Perhaps I am lucky, perhaps not, but it is my experience nonetheless.

In short, my answer is: diabetes is sometimes a disability, but not always.

Tim, I am with you on this one. Upon reading Manny’s question, my first thought was “I’m not disabled!” I’ve spent my whole life proving that I am “normal” and can, relatively most of the time, perform any activities and do anything tha non-diabetics can do.

At the same time, I know allowances are made for my health. For example, when I was low one day at work ( I work in publishing) and didn’t have anything on me to help me, my manager insisted I leave the office and get myself some juice. It may help that her husband is diabetic - maybe she just understood.

That being said, I’ve never experienced any discrimination because of my diabetes. Most people are understanding. God help the person who tries to take my medicine from me - they would regret it. lol

I do agree that there should be something in the law that protects people who live with chronic illnesses and who are not necessarily physically disabled. It’s just hard to know how the language should be written - I don’t want to think of myself as disabled and don’t want to be looked at that way either. At the same time, if there is ever situation where I am discriminated against - I’d like to have the law on my side.

YES! I have been treated like a four headed freak b/c of my juvenille diabetes at work, school etc…

One time I had a teacher ask me if I wanted a Television with my snack when i was treating a low blood sugar, another time I was told I should better control my bloodsugars so I don’t go high or low during work cause my co-workers are annoyed by it. (wtf? I sometimes cannot control everything with my b/s levels it’s not a perfect disease).

If our disease was treated like a disability we wouldn’t run into those issues at work or school. Those A**holes wouldn’t even try harassing us anymore.

I’m sick of those people and I believe diabetes is a physical disability…


Ashley, I’m sorry those ignorant, uncaring people made those comments to you at work and school. But, making diabetes a legally protected disability does not force people to be nice, or understand our disease. Your teachers would probably still make ignorant comments, and your coworkers would probably still be annoyed, because the VAST MAJORITY of people do not understand what diabetes is.

As a community we need to help people understand what diabetes is, how it is properly treated, etc. The law should protect those who need it, but acceptance will come with education.