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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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    If colleges and universities require any students to pay for room and board, to require that someone with celiac disease pay for such room and board, while not offering safe meals, they are obviously blatantly discriminating against us. Furthermore, such action is obvious extortion, and forcing someone to pay to be poisoned is the height of absurdity. Celiac disease is a disability, and that issue has already been settled.

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    Right wing extremists don't believe in taking care of the disabled in the first place, so this total lack of compassion is not a surprise from Fox. Being gluten intolerant, I can pick my way through menus to find food to eat. Celiacs have to be even more vigilant. It's a shame the government has to step in to get a college to accommodate this disorder. But the ignorant lack of compassion of Spakovsky's reaction says it all, doesn't it?! The government has to step in just because of people like him in the first place.

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    Jefferson-- Thank you for making me aware of this. I'm surprised I didn't catch it on FOX's website already. I appreciate all of the work you do on behalf of those with celiac and other conditions.

     

    I just posted my thoughts on this at my blog and will be sending a copy to Mr. von Spakovsky. The issue here is the role of the government more than having empathy for food allergic people, but there has to be some recognition under the ADA or it's not being applied fairly.

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    I Do believe that schools, hospitals, nursing homes and any other institution that is providing food for large numbers of people who have few or no other resources Should accommodate those with food allergies. HOWEVER, to call a food allergy a disability opens a GIANT can of worms when it comes to public expense and responsibility. Calling it a disability puts people in line for a large variety of benefits that the working class have to pay for. And where does the line get drawn with such a BROAD number of food allergies out there? From commonly used to rarely used foods. As with other "disabilities" Should someone with a "food allergy" to radishes be deserving of government medical care, housing assistance, etc, etc. Yeah, THAT SEEMS silly, but THINK about ALL of the repercussions to labeling something as a DISABILITY.

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    At the most conservative level, this is really only an issue worthy of federal mitigation if students are forced to purchase a meal plan. If this is not the case, then perhaps families should be permitted to apply for federal aid to assist students with debilitating food intolerance.

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    If colleges and universities require any students to pay for room and board, to require that someone with celiac disease pay for such room and board, while not offering safe meals, they are obviously blatantly discriminating against us. Furthermore, such action is obvious extortion, and forcing someone to pay to be poisoned is the height of absurdity. Celiac disease is a disability, and that issue has already been settled.

    I agree, Michael. My daughter is attending college now. Although they say they have gluten-free options, she has run into situations where contamination was an issue. She has also found that the dedicated gluten-free station does not always have the greatest choices. It's usually rice and some kind of tofu choice. Not always too appetizing. We pay quite a bit of money for her room and board. It would be nice to know that there is a more serious effort to provide for students with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or even other food related allergies. I think a better effort needs to be made by these colleges.

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    I too have celiac disease and attend college courses. I have to accommodate myself by bringing in my own meals/snacks. If I should forget to bring something, I have very little choice to eat that day at class. Yes, DoJ should get involved to provide equal rights in the college/universities for those who suffer from food allergies. Many do NOT know or understand the severity of food allergy issues.

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    I have celiac disease, I do not consider myself handicapped or disabled. Would it be awesome if everywhere I went had gluten-free options and were knowledgeable about cross contamination? YES. Do I really think that can happen? NO. I know that university cafeterias have people that care, but they are largely staffed by students that don't give a rip; I'm not going to trust them to not contaminate my food. Maybe the best option is just to talk to the food services director and see if something can be done on an individual basis instead of mandating an entire menu/area for about 1% of the student population.

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    Celiacs face a real dilemma, trying to eat gluten-free in gluten-full environments. Yet the best means to address the need is not to mandate something from the federal level which will only give cause to raise the price of a university education. (Think $500 hammer!) The approach of "reasonable accommodations" could be explored - providing kitchens or allowing minimal cooking in dorm rooms (crock pots, etc), dedicating at least one university restaurant to allergy-free meals (many universities have food courts), providing transportation and discounts at local allergy-free restaurants...

    It sometimes takes persistence and being the "squeaky wheel" to have a need recognized, but the best solution is NOT having the government step in.

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    Having celiac disease is a major health issue. It is a disability when you cannot eat safely outside of your home due to the fear of cross contamination. When paying to go to a private university, a student with celiac disease should absolutely have access to food prepared safely.

    I could not disagree with you more Mr. Hans von Spakovsky!

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    Celiac disease IS a disability and YES colleges who mandate students purchase a meal plan should be held responsible for providing food for students with food allergies. All food handlers should undergo mandatory food allergen training. The cost of higher education is astronomical. To think you are paying for a meal plan that you cannot use is like paying for a mandatory gym membership for your pet. Would you do that?

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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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