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)


(1) MURPHY v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC.; certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit; No. 97-1992. Argued April 27, 1999--Decided June 22, 1999.

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Diabetes and Civil Rights Laws
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
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Is pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes a disability?

Before answering this question you first need to understand one more thing about the definition of "substantially limits" in defining a disability.

Additional considerations of the term “substantially limits”

Another important legal decision that affects persons with diabetes came by Supreme Court Ruling in June of 1999. (Murphy v. United Parcel Service, 527 U.S. 516 (1999); decided June 22, 1999). (1)   The Supreme Court decided that the disability must be assessed without consideration to corrective services, devices, or medications.  For example, a person who has had a limb amputated but can walk with the aid of an artificial leg may still be considered disabled even though a corrective device assists the person in walking.  The ruling also clarified that a person may have a disability even if a medication helps the person. 

This decision can be important to people diagnosed with diabetes who use lifestyle, insulin or other medications to correct blood sugars and manage the disease.  Without medical or corrective intervention the disease still exists and may be an impairment that substantially limits major activities in life.  Therefore, simply correcting the affects of the impairment (through diabetes management) with medication or insulin does not automatically disqualify a person as having a disability.

Temporary impairments may or may not be disabilities under the ADA.  Having gestational diabetes and pre-diabetes would be considered a temporary impairment.  How long an impairment lasts is a significant factor that is considered, but not the deciding factor, in determining a disability. 

The basic question is still whether any impairment "substantially limits" one or more major life activities. This question is answered by looking at the extent, duration, and impact of the impairment. Temporary, non-chronic impairments that do not last for a long time and that have little or no long term impact usually are not disabilities.  


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Is pre-diabetes a disability?

Pre-diabetes would be difficult to consider as a disability even though changes in lifestyle are necessary.  Pre-diabetes is considered transitory (meaning it is not a disease itself, but an early indicator that diabetes could develop).  Since pre-diabetes is often completely reversible it could not be considered a permanent impairment.  However, if a person were morbidly obese (which can be associated with pre-diabetes) and was denied a job that they were qualified for and able to perform simply because they were morbidly obese, the third prong of the ADA definition of “disability” might apply.


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Is gestational diabetes a disability?

Pregnancy itself is not a disability.  However, if there are complications from a pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, under certain conditions, gestational diabetes, although not a permanent condition, may qualify as a disability.

For example, if a woman with gestational diabetes needs to test her blood sugars and inject insulin she may need temporary, reasonable accommodations in the work place.  The key factor in determining whether or not gestational diabetes could be considered a disability is not gestational diabetes itself, but the impact it has on a woman’s ability to work and perform major life activities.


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