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 and Civil Rights Laws
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
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What is the meaning of having a “record of such an impairment”

Purpose: This definition prohibits an employer from relying on permanent records including those containing information about disabilities and medical information to make adverse decisions about employment.

The second prong (definition) of the ADA criteria for defining a disability is when a person  “has a record of such an impairment.”   A “record” refers to any form of documentation of a past or current disability.  It was enacted to protect people whether or not they are currently substantially limited in a major life activity.  Examples include people with a history of a debilitating disease such as cancer or heart disease that is in remission or has been cured, or whose condition is now controlled (i.e., as in the case of a person with diabetes). 

This definition also protects people with a history of mental illness, or those who have been previously misdiagnosed as having a disability; basically, anyone who has a permanent record of any disability that also meets the ADA definition of “disability.” 

According to the ADA & IT Technical Assistance Centers, “To be protected by the ADA under this part of the definition, a person must have a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A person would not be protected, for example, merely because s/he has a record of being a "disabled veteran," or a record of "disability" under another federal statute or program unless this person also met the ADA definition of an individual with a record of a disability.” (2)   

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Being regarded as "Having Such an Impairment"

Purpose:  This part of the ADA definition provides protection to persons who may not have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, but who may still suffer discrimination based on perceived impairment due to ignorance or negative reaction to their impairment.

In 1987 the United States Supreme Court stated, and the Congress reiterated that, “society's myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairments." (School Bd. of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 287 (1987).(3)

For example, a person with mild or well-controlled diabetes is barred from participating in sports at school because of his/her diabetes, despite being able to safely participate. 

Even when a person does not have a disability (i.e., their diabetes does not substantially limit a major life activity) if s/he is still being treated as though s/he does, they are covered under the ADA definition “regarded has having such an impairment.”


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