Live with Diabetes? You May Be Eligible for a Free Lifetime National Park Access Pass


It’s unusual to hear of any freebies related to having diabetes, but the United States National Park Service (NPS) offers an exception!

U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents with a permanent disability—which does not have to be a 100 percent disability—may be eligible for free lifetime access to over 2,000 federally-managed sites, including national parks and recreation areas. This pass is the free, lifetime version of the NPS’s America the Beautiful, which costs $80 a year.  

It begs the question, however—is diabetes considered a qualifying condition? According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the short answer is yes!

Is diabetes considered a disability?

The (slightly) longer explanation from the ADA is that diabetes qualifies as a disability because “it substantially limits the function of the endocrine system.” 

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Park Service defines a disability as a “permanent, physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.”

Under most laws, type 1 and type 2 diabetes are protected disabilities. This protection ensures that people with diabetes can access the legal protections they may need. The ADA states that “diabetes is still a disability, even if a person is healthy and diabetes is well-managed.” 

Classifying diabetes as a disability doesn’t mean people living with it can’t flourish or do the things they love. The term “disability” often comes with an unwarranted stigma. People with diabetes, like people living with many other life-long conditions, have the freedom to pursue jobs, hobbies and goals. With the tools, resources and technology available today, people with diabetes are thriving more than ever.

The ADA created the following resources to help clarify when diabetes is considered a disability:

How to apply for a lifetime access pass

If you live with diabetes and would like to apply for a free lifetime national park access pass that is a part of the NPS’s America The Beautiful Series, follow these steps:

First, get a copy of a government-issued ID ready to prove you are who you say you are! Qualifying documentation could be your driver’s license, passport, or other state-issued ID.

Second, you need proof of disability. Documentation required for verification includes any of the following:

  • A statement from your doctor explaining that you have a permanent disability, which limits one or more aspects of your daily life. (The report must describe the nature of your limitations.)
  • Documentation issued by a federal agency like the Veteran’s Administration (VA), Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Documentation issued by a state agency like a vocational rehabilitation agency.

Once you have gathered your documents, it will be time to submit them!

How to submit your lifetime access pass application

Once your mail-in application arrives at USGS, it is typically processed within five business days. Processing time may vary slightly based on your region, or if USGS finds any errors in your application, so it’s always smart to plan ahead if you want to take a trip to a national park soon!

Passes must be presented along with a photo ID when used. State parks, unfortunately, aren’t included.

To truly get your pass for free, you can submit your application at a federal recreation site or apply online and pay a $10 processing fee. Use the NPS search tool to find a federal recreation site near you. 

Find more information about this access pass on the NPS FAQ site.

WRITTEN BY Julia Flaherty, POSTED 08/04/22, UPDATED 01/22/24

Julia Flaherty is a published children’s book author, writer, editor, award-winning digital marketer, content creator and diabetes advocate. Find Julia’s first book, “Rosie Becomes a Warrior.” Julia finds therapy in building connections within the diabetes community. Being able to contribute to its progress brings her joy. She loves connecting with the diabetes communities, being creative and storytelling. You will find Julia hiking, traveling, working on her next book, or diving into a new art project in her free time. Connect with Julia on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.