Islets of Hope Is diabetes a disability?  What civil rights laws protect diabetics?

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Written by Lahle Wolfe

Source:  Publication PA-04-2006; Revised 12/06; Published by Islets of Hope, Diabetes and civil rights law: "An overview of your legal right to equal access to programs, benefits, opportunity, accommodations, education, and employment"  Read full publication (.pdf)

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diabetes legal information education and daycare facility laws

Diabetes and Civil Rights Laws
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
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The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability, which may include diabetes, in private employment, State and local government, the United States Congress, public accommodations, commercial facilities including restaurants, transportation, and telecommunications.  In addition to the ADA most states also have their own laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability.  Some state laws apply to smaller employers than the ADA (the ADA laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees) as well as offer other protections in addition to those available under the ADA.

ADA Title II:  State and Local Government Activities

Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity's size or receipt of any Federal funding.  ADA Title II requires:

  • State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).
  • State and local governments must follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings to make new facilities accessible to those with disabilities. They are also required to relocate programs or in some way provide access in inaccessible older buildings to people with disabilities, and offer effective communication with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
  • Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens but are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.  


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In August 2007, California courts rendered a landmark decision by legally establishing that children with diabetes were disabled according to both state and federal legal definitions and therefore, have protected rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1973 as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The suit also addressed the needs of students who ride school buses to and from school as well as for field trips.

Definition of a qualified individual with a disability under Title II and Title III

Purpose:  To protect the rights of qualified persons with disabilities to participate in, and benefit from, services and programs offered by a public or private entity.

 Just as in the provisions of Title I definitions, protections under Title II and Title III are only afforded to “qualified” individuals with disabilities (not every person with a disability is necessarily qualified).

For a person with a disability to be covered under Title III they must have a disability and qualify by meeting the essential eligibility requirements with or without:

  • Reasonable modifications to rules, policies or practices;
  • Auxiliary (communications) aids or services; or
  • Removal of architectural, communications or transportation barriers.

The "essential eligibility requirements" for participation in many activities may be minimal, such as simply requesting information about a program.  In this case, simply requesting the information would satisfy “essential eligibility requirements.”  However, to qualify for other programs may require more specific criteria.  For example, to enter medical school a person may be required to have first successfully completed certain academic courses.


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ADA Title II: Public Transportation

The transportation provisions of ADA Title II cover public transportation services, such as city buses and public rail transit (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak, etc.).   Some specific areas covered under ADA Title II include:

  • Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services.
  • They must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden.
  • Provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. Paratransit is a service where individuals who are unable to use the regular transit system independently (because of a physical or mental impairment) are picked up and dropped off at their destinations.


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Page Updated 08/15/2007