Is Diabetes a Disability?

Last week, I was quite surprised to find an article in the “Science Times” section of the NYT (Tuesday,  October 27, 2015), entitled “Failing on Diabetes.”   The article was written by Catherine Saint Louis, and was subtitled “Many schools are not carrying out their obligation to provide care for children with type 1 (diabetes), which puts a burden on parents.”  I was surprised;  I had assumed that by now all physicians and other health professional who care for children with diabetes,  parents of children with diabetes, and educators know that under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,  and the Americans For Disabilities Act, diabetes in children is considered a handicap  By law, all schools, private and public, must accommodate their diabetes, and provide these children equal access educational and extracurricular activities.  This requirement includes preschools and licensed day care facilities; only schools run by religious institutions that do not receive any federal funding are exempt.  If this is new news to you, I suggest you “google” KinderCare and diabetes.  You will be able to read about the landmark settlement KinderCare reached with the U.S. Department of Justice, based on a law suit filed in U.S. District Court in February 1996 by  the American Diabetes Association ADA) and others, on behalf of a  young child with diabetes.  The settlement reads as follows: “KinderCare will accept children with diabetes into its child  care program, do simple “finger prick” blood glucose monitoring, and provide appropriate care in response to low blood glucose levels.  KinderCare will also undergo a three-year employee training program on a wide range of disability related issues.”


The NYT article summarized the salient issues, and presented the plight of several families as they tried getting school educators to meet the schools’s legal obligations for their children with diabetes.  It hasn’t helped that many schools have budgetary constraints, and the number of schools that now have full-time nurses has been dwindling over the past few years.  But, as the article pointed out, meeting the basic needs of children with diabetes is not rocket science; most  willing laypersons can be taught to test finger stick blood glucose levels, give insulin injections, treat low blood glucose levels, give an insulin injection, monitor the children’s meals and snacks, call “911” in an emergency, etc., just as the parents and other caregivers of these children have been taught to do.  These children deserve to receive the same educational and extracurricular benefits as their non-diabetic schoolmates.  After all, don’t we  want all of these children to grow up and become productive members of society?  Otherwise, there is the risk that the diabetes will truly become a disability, not just defined as one.  The “burden” of the diabetes should not be limited to the child and his or her parents.  Health professionals who care for children with diabetes must share the burden as should those who work in our day care facilities and schools.  In the end we will all benefit.

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