There are few issues as emotionally charged as asking the diabetes community if diabetes is a disability. Some people will state that they have a disabled pancreas. Others will state that there is nothing that they cannot do…except make insulin. There seems to be no clear answer. There are some cases where diabetes is recognized by federal agencies as a disability and others where it is not.
What is a disability?
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a disability as a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.
Is diabetes a disability?
By the Merriam-Webster’s definition, you could easily argue that diabetes is a disability. The American Disability Act would agree with you.
A person with type 1 diabetes, in particular, cannot participate in any activity without careful planning. Over the years, that planning is often done automatically but planning still occurs.
Before getting out of bed or having breakfast, a person with type 1 diabetes needs to check their blood sugar levels. Before eating any food, a person with diabetes must have a good grasp of the nutritional value. Finally, they must attempt to administer enough insulin to cover the food that they plan to ingest.
The amount of planning needed to manage your diabetes is most obvious when a person takes part in physical activity. Before the activity starts, they must know if the activity will raise or lower blood glucose levels. Next, they also must ensure that they have enough food, water, and insulin with them to stay safe. These are not activities that a person with a functioning pancreas has to do.
Does the American Disability Act protect people with diabetes?
For those living in the US, as we mentioned, the American Disability Act recognizes diabetes as a disability. It provides people with diabetes protection from discrimination at work and school.
An employer cannot refuse to hire you based solely on your diabetes. You do not even have to tell the employer that you have diabetes. Once you are employed however, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations for you. The accommodations can include changes to your workplace or routine that can help you to manage your diabetes.
The American Disabilities Act also protects the rights of children to inject and check their blood sugar levels in a classroom setting.
Are Canadian children with diabetes considered disabled?
In Canada, there isn’t a Disability Act like they have in the US. In many provinces, provincial legislation does exist to protect the rights of children with diabetes in school.
There are some accommodations available to help young adults with diabetes who go on to post-secondary institutions. You can read more the accommodations that can be made and how to access them in the transitions resource from the Diabetes Hope Foundation.
Read more about the protection of the rights of children with diabetes in school here.
Can you get Social Security if you have diabetes?
People with type 1 or type 2 do not usually qualify for social security benefits unless they have another underlying condition or complications. Also having poor vision or neuropathy that makes it difficult to work may qualify a person with diabetes for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Learn how to quality for SSI and SSDI with type 1 diabetes by reading this article.
Can you qualify for the Disability Tax Credit if you have diabetes?
The Disability Tax Credit (DTC) is a tax credit available to qualifying Canadian taxpayers. If you are insulin-dependent, spend over 14 hours per week on your care, and are paying taxes in Canada, you may qualify for this tax credit.
In the case of the Disability Tax Credit, Canadians who qualify because of their insulin-dependent diabetes are not actually eligible because of a disability. They are eligible for the credit because they require Life-Sustaining therapy. The fourteen plus hours of activity that they perform each week to stay alive is the reason that they are eligible for this credit.
Take our quiz to see if you should consider applying for the DTC.
Should a person with diabetes be labelled as disabled?
Labelling and the stigma that comes with the word disabled is where many of the emotionally charged arguments arise. No one wants a label to stop them from doing all the things that they love and are fully capable of doing.
Most people look at a disability as only being visible. For example, a person must be in a wheelchair to be disabled. I fully understand that. Personally, I don’t see a person with diabetes as being disabled in the traditional sense of the word. Diabetes has rarely stopped my son from doing what he wants to do. There are also are many people living with diabetes who are doing awesome things.
In the US, the American Disabilities Act recognizes diabetes as a disability. Diabetes alone, however, is often not reason enough to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance.
In Canada, a person with diabetes who proves that they intensively manage their diabetes care can qualify for the Disability Tax Credit. Their approval has nothing to do with being disabled. They qualify under the subsection on life-sustaining therapy.
The issue of diabetes as a disability is complex and emotionally charged. Lauren Salko’s article offers a great perspective on being labeled disabled when living with type 1 diabetes.
Whether you consider a person with diabetes as disabled or not, living with diabetes does present many physical, emotional, and financial challenges. The Diabetes Academy provides a safe place for support and information on living your best life with diabetes.