Disability Protection for Those with Diabetes: Know Your Rights

Before 2009, the U.S. judicial system had a habit of narrowly defining disabilities. This made establishing coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) problematic for many people with diabetes.

Fortunately, alterations to the ADA in 2008 broadened the courts’ view.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) makes it clear that those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are entitled to disability protection. The ADAAA went into effect Jan. 1, 2009.

Life Activity Limitations

An individual disability, under the ADA, is a mental or physical impairment that significantly limits any life activities.

The ADAAA includes major bodily functions as a type of major life activity:

[A] major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to ... circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

Because diabetes, by definition, impairs the functioning of the endocrine system in significant ways, it should be straightforward to easily prove that the disease causes substantial limitation in endocrine function, with minimal medical evidence.

Where proof of diabetes is required, a report from the individual’s physician or endocrinologist should be adequate. The report needs to explain the effects of diabetes on the endocrine system and provide relevant details about the patient’s condition and treatment.

'Regarded as' Impaired

Disability protection under the ADA also includes people "being regarded" as having an impairment.

The “regarded as” clause states that when a person is subject to an action – such as termination of employment – because they are believed or perceived by the employer to have an impairment, they are protected under the ADA.

Being “regarded as” does not indicate an individual is the victim of discrimination. It means that person is entitled to ADA protection. Determining the occurrence of unlawful discrimination is a separate matter.

Also, an employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who meets the “regarded as” definition. A determination of disability must be made to expect accommodations.

No Mitigating Measures

When the court is determining whether a person is covered by the ADA, it cannot take “mitigating measures” into consideration.

Mitigating measures include:

  • Medications, medical supplies, equipment, devices for low-vision (other than ordinary glasses or contacts), mobility aids, and oxygen supplies.
  • The use of assistive technology.
  • Reasonable accommodations, auxiliary aids, or services.
  • Learned adaptive or behavioral neurological modifications.

The courts must asses diabetes as a disability according to its limiting effect on a major bodily function (endocrine system) when the person is not taking insulin injections, using an insulin pump, or oral medications. This includes medications or equipment related to diabetes complications such as vision loss.

Should Be Straightforward

The ADAAA mandates that determining disability should be a straightforward, uncomplicated matter for a long list of conditions, including diabetes. The effects of unmitigated (untreated) diabetes are well known and easily established by a doctor’s affidavit.

Yet, as we all know, legal issues are rarely straightforward or uncomplicated.

Although diabetes is “virtually always” covered under the ADA, you will likely need an advocate who understands the ADA and its amendments to steer disability issues through the court system.

Source: American Diabetes Association
Photo credit: Serge Melki

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