Delicious Living Blog

Why it's legit to call gluten allergy a 'disability'

After the recent ruling classifying celiac and gluten intolerance as a disability, reactions included outrage and disgust--proving that a lot of people still don't understand the severity of this kind of condition.

Earlier this week I wrote about the December 2012 settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Lesley University that ruled to define severe food intolerances, including celiac disease, as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Under a 2009 revision, the ADA now includes any impairment that “substantially limits activity.”

Reactions were (and continue to be) all over the map. "Absurd," "nanny-state overreach," and "laughable" were just a few of the comments I heard. (Add your opinion below!)

Think that food sensitivities don't meet that ADA standard? Ask someone who deals with it every day.

A personal example: When my adult GF son accidentally ate sushi rolls with gluten in them, he got so sick that he missed a week of work. When he was a student at Stanford, before his gluten sensitivity was diagnosed, his increasing sickness caused him to miss and eventually drop classes.

I’d call that a substantial limitation of his activity. (And yes, I was more than a little annoyed that while we were paying the same for his dining-hall meal plan as everyone else was, he couldn’t eat most of the food.)

Then there’s the fact that people with severe food intolerances can suffer debilitating migraines, crippling joint pain, even infertility. The key word there is debilitating: In other words, un-abling, making something impossible that would be possible for a fully healthy person.

I’m not talking about people who give up gluten or some other food simply because they’ve heard it will help them lose weight (thanks but no thanks, Lady Gaga).

But for those people who deal with true food allergies (peanuts and shellfish, for example), sensitivities (such as gluten), and celiac, I think this ruling opens up the conversation in a new and impactful way. It astonishes me how many people still don’t understand the seriousness and pervasiveness of food intolerances. Clearly, the Lesley University outcome will raise the awareness factor, and it remains to be seen how it impacts other food providers, like restaurants.

What's your experience with food intolerance? Is calling it a disability helpful or not?

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