Is Someone with Type 1 Diabetes “Disabled”?
I have never been one to feel limited by monikers or labels. I am a woman, I am an athlete, I am a person with diabetes, I am a sister, I am a friend and I am disabled. None of those terms define me, but they are an authentic representation of who I am. The epithet in that list that might have surprised you (especially if you have seen me at work as a professional skier) is “disabled.” Now, I know what many of you are thinking. It goes something along the lines of, “My child with diabetes is not disabled,” or “I do not want to be viewed as disabled.” I have some news for you: if you have type 1 diabetes, you are disabled.
Now before you jump all over me, let explain few things about disability to you. I promise, I do not mean to marginalize you or the diabetes community by calling those with type 1 diabetes “disabled.” Here is the thing, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act “An individual with a disability is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or a person who has a history or record of such an impairment.” When a person’s pancreas doesn’t make insulin, the person’s body is unable to convert glucose into useable energy without exogenous insulin. Useable energy is required to live. Failure to thrive due to an organ not producing a hormone required to sustain life is a “physical impairment that substantially limits” the major life activity of living. If this isn’t enough to convince you that diabetes is a disability covered under the ADA, let’s take a look at the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which explicitly names diabetes as a disability covered by the ADA.
Simply put by the Department of Justice, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” The ADA is what makes sure that people with diabetes are able to have all the accommodations and rights they need to live their lives.
The ADA is what makes it possible for your child to test their blood sugar in class, for them to have extra time on tests if they have a low blood sugar in the middle of it, for you to have reasonable accommodations at work such as a place to check your blood sugar or take a few minutes to treat a low blood sugar. The ADA is why your employer cannot ask about or discriminate against you because of your diabetes. This act is even what makes it possible for your diabetic alert dog to accompany you in public places that are not dog-friendly. All of these rights are afforded to people with diabetes because they are considered disabled under the law. The term “disabled” isn’t as bad as you thought, is it?
So I know some of you are still not sure about calling someone with diabetes “disabled.” I get that; the negative connotation is hard to overcome sometimes. In 1975, an organization in the UK made a bold statement. They claimed, “In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.” This has come to be known as the social model of disability.
In simpler terms, the social model of disability is the idea that we are more disabled by society’s views than by our physical limitations themselves. There are many strong people with diabetes out in the world that do amazing things every day; the fact is, they do these things despite being disabled. Actually, there are many people with many different disabilities out there that do great things every day. Using the term “disabled” to describe an individual doesn’t have to spark thoughts of weakness or inability in our minds, it only does this because this is what society has conditioned us to think about members of our community who live with disability. Every time we think that way, we limit each other and ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, if we change the way talk and think about disability, we won’t be so offended by the word.
I think it is time we flipped the switch. Instead of fighting against the term “disabled,” I chose to embrace it. I choose to “own” my type 1 diabetes and not let my disability define me, and I hope that by doing so, I can help to change the rhetoric we use when we talk about people with disability and eliminate the negative connotation.