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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Is a Food Allergy a 'Legitimate' Disability?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 02/08/2013 - In an article for Fox News, Hans von Spakovsky, a senior fellow at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, ridicules the idea that the Department of Justice (DoJ) should use its weight to force colleges and universities to accommodate students with food allergies under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Photo: CC--Steven A. JohnsonAt issue is a settlement the DoJ obtained with Lesley University in Massachusetts, which had allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not adequately accommodating students with food allergies.

    Under the settlement agreement with the DoJ, Lesley University will pay $50,000, offer meals that do not contain “egg, wheat, shellfish, fish, soy, peanut, tree-nut products, and other potential allergens," prepare the food in a dedicated area, and to allow students to pre-order their special meals, among other requirements.

    In the view of von Spakovsky, the agreement amounts to "extortion" by the the DoJ. He calls the "idea that this is a federal issue, or that the Justice Department should burn its resources investigating food preparation in university dining halls…a complete absurdity."

    He goes onto call the DOJ's efforts at Lesley a "dish-hunt [which] exemplifies mindless mission creep and the bloated expansion of the federal nanny state."

    What do you think? Do you have children or loved ones with celiac disease, especially of college age? Should celiac disease be considered a disability? Do they deserve gluten-free food options at school? Should the government pressure schools that either can't or won't act on their own? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

    Click here to read Hans von Spakovsky's full article, ridiculing efforts by the federal government to use the Americans with Disabilities Act to pressure colleges to accommodate students with food allergies.


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    Guest gretajane@gmail.com

    Posted

    I would have a hard time trusting them anyway. It's so hard to avoid cross-contamination, but what other choice does a starving college student have? Many schools have a mandatory meal plan, in which case they should accommodate special needs.

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    I have two children (21 and 14) with celiac disease. I agree that it would be nice if universities did consider celiacs under the disability act... as this is a serious life long auto immune disease.

     

    I would also like to add that my 21 year old is a 4th year University of Waterloo (30,000 students) in Waterloo Ontario Canada and he has managed just find. First year the university did accommodate him and he was allowed to live in a residence where he had his own kitchen so he prepared all his food every day. Years 2-4 the student find their own housing so there was no issue here. There is a huge increase of restaurants and grocery stores carrying gluten free foods so my son never went without. He also was able to go to the bars (drinking age 19) and enjoy a cider beer or rum and coke. We have to prepare our children to be on their own.

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    I think the question should only be whether or not the DOJ should be mandating it. I do have celiac and a child with celiac - we also have milk allergy among other items. I say no. It's amazing what can get done in a school district with parents working together with food preppers. We have a Gluten Free Menu available. There actually are a lot of colleges and universities that offer gluten free options. We are a nation of cry babies. Have your high school student to a report on the college they've chosen and have them go in and work it out. If they are met with problems then go help them out. Stop crying and expecting the gov. to help you. EVEN IF THE GOVERNMENT DOES DO something... I would still go in and see first hand exactly what they are doing and where they are buying their products, etc. Does it take a LOT of extra time, work, and money... yes, but I wouldn't let someone else take control of my health anyway.

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    I was diagnosed with Celiac disease 7 years ago, and I 100% think it should be considered a disability. Most of the food industry is ignorant when it comes to gluten-free and think of it as a fad diet. If they were properly trained and monitored then people in my situation wouldn't be looked at like they have 3 heads when they order something gluten-free. In Italy, employers give their employees with celiac disease one extra day off a month to go out and purchase their gluten-free food because it is sold in the pharmacies. Just frustrating that people don't see this disease for what it is: a disability, and not just some sort of fad.

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    I have a child getting ready to go to college next year who has celiac disease. I'm very worried about her being able to eat safely while she's away. I don't know if colleges should be mandated to provide allergy friendly choices (we have too much legislation as it is), but I do think that it is the responsible thing to do.

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    Many times college students are required to live on campus and pay for a food card. They shouldn't be forced to pay for something they can't use. With the growing number of people with food allergies, there is no reason that they shouldn't be accommodated. I think this is just part of the ongoing education, and that years from now we'll look back and wonder what took so long.

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    Of course celiac and food allergies in general should be considered a disability and therefore students or anyone that uses a dining hall for meals with no other resources should be accommodated. When we were looking at colleges for our daughter, the dining hall was a significant factor in determining which college she would go to. With the possibility of dire consequences when gluten is consumed, it is imperative that schools and other institutions recognize the need and make reasonable accommodations.

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    Hans von Spakovsky obviously doesn't have celiac disease or he would better understand how "dangerous" it can be. Universities/colleges should have the common sense (maybe I'm expecting too much from our institutions of higher learning)to already provide for students who have food allergy problems without the interference of "Big Brother".

    The ultimate question, I think, is what ever happened to common sense and wanting to help people? I have celiac disease and live with the difficulties it creates whenever I have to eat, even at home.

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    I am a celiac and I am not sure they need to call it a disability but there should be options for the kids at college. If they do not have any other option then I think the school is not providing for them.

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    Those of us with food allergies should DEFINITELY be considered handicapped. As a landscape architect, I am not allowed to put a bench under a tree in a commercial landscape unless I provide handicapped access to it, even if there are already a hundred benches not far away with handicapped access. THAT seems like overreach to me. BUT to be able to go to college and live in the dormitories, you have to be able to eat on campus. All people should be able to have access to food. I have multiple food allergies and traveling is a nightmare. Now they won't even let me take my specialty foods on the airlines, so I HAVE NOT flown for over a decade. Last time I had to evacuate a hurricane I ended up passed out in the parking lot of a grocery store that didn't have any protein that I could purchase that did not need to be cooked, except for a can of tuna fish, which I had already eaten 2 cans of that day. I have been warning restaurants for years that class action suits are in their future if they don't start offering alternatives for people with food allergies. I should be able to walk into any restaurant or cafeteria in this country and be able to eat at least one meal, and lettuce with lemon squeezed on it does NOT count. I am also sick and tired of calling up the restaurants ahead of time to determine that there is something I can eat and then when I show up getting an entirely different story. AND I am sick and tired of being poisoned even after giving a list of my allergens, simply because often they don't even have ingredient lists on their pre-packaged food, or they don't think to look at the ingredients of sauces and such. I'm always being told that the lemon butter or garlic butter is safe, and yet it ends up not being real butter, OR the garlic was stored in soy oil, or some such. I encourage everyone with food allergies and sensitivities to challenge every restaurant they pass by... to constantly request equal access... to continue to educate the uneducated.

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    Our government has not done enough to keep pollution out of our air and water and soils. I grew up downwind of the above ground nuclear testing sites in the southwest. The air was filled with the aroma of petroleum. The information that cigarettes and liquor were unhealthy for forming fetuses was hidden by tobacco and liquor corporations, so my mother smoked and drank all the way through her pregnancies. I blame my allergies on the systematic destruction of our environment by corporations and government. SO, YES, I think that food allergies are a legitimate handicap. Anyone who does not think so should walk in my shoes for a few weeks.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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