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. In some cases it is recognized by federal agencies as a disability and in others 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 and 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 must still occur.
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 and attempt to administer enough insulin to cover the food that they plan to ingest.
The planning needed is most obvious when a person with diabetes is involved in physical activity. They must know if the activity with raise or lower blood glucose levels. They also must ensure that they have enough food, water, and insulin with them to stay safe. These are not the activities that a person with a functioning pancreas is required 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 employed, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations including 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.
When your child goes to university, accommodations are still available to help young adults with diabetes. You can read more about what accommodations 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)
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 something known as 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.
But should a person with diabetes really 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. A person should 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 and there are many incredible people living with diabetes who are doing awesome things.
In the US, the American Disabilities Act recognizes diabetes as a disability and yet diabetes alone 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 gives 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.