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

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Article disclaimer

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)

In October of 2005 a class-action lawsuit was filed by four families in Northern California against California schools aserting that children with diabetes were protected under federal (and state) disability laws. 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).


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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 legal definition of a disability

The guiding anti-discrimination legislation used for identifying a person has having a disability can be found in the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Both the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA have been amended since they were enacted in order to further clarify the term “disability” as it applies to civil rights of persons with disabilities. 

Anti-discrimination laws are continually being challenged and therefore, subject to dynamic legal interpretation and possible further amendment.  To find out if there have been any recent changes regarding disability laws in the United States contact your regional Disability and Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) at 1-800-949-4232 V/TTY or visit them on the web:

Under the ADA there are three key aspects used in defining the term “disability.”  The ADA definition of disability reconciles with the term “disability” under the Rehabilitation Act.  Both the ADA and Rehabilitation Act work to identify specific types of discrimination that people with disabilities may encounter. While these two important sets of laws agree on what constitutes a disability, other laws do not use this same definition.  Laws that may use other, broader or more defining criteria for the term “disability” include state and federal laws providing benefits to disabled persons (i.e., state worker’s compensation laws) and veterans. 

In some cases, even if a person with diabetes is qualified as having a disability, other federal or state laws may prohibit or restrict the hiring of someone who uses insulin for a particular job.  In this case, anti-discrimination laws may or may not apply.

Both the ADA and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which was further clarified in The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1974) define a person with a disability as:

 “anyone who:

        (i)  has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major
              life activities,

       (ii)  has a record of such an impairment, or

      (iii)  is regarded as having such an impairment."


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Read more by selecting a topic below

Is everyone with diabetes considered disabled according to federal law?

Definition of physical and mental impairments

What is not considered an impairment?

Definition of "Major Life Activities"

The importance of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1974 for diabetics

An impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities

Applying the three limitation factor to diabetes (chart)

The meaning of “record of such an impairment”

Regarded As Having Such an Impairment

Illegal drug use and the ADA

Discrimination by association with a person who has diabetes

Is pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes a disability?

Your civil rights for administering diabetes self-care in public and in the work place

ADA Title I:  Employment

Definition of a qualified individual with a disability under Title I

ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities

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

ADA Title II: Public Transportation

ADA Title III: Public Accommodations

Title IV:  Telecommunications relay services

Your right to file a grievance:  ADA protection against retaliation or coercion

Where to file ADA civil rights complaints


Back to main Civil Rights Section

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Page Updated 08/15/2007