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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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    Celiacs disease becomes a disability when one's choices of schools are limited by their food intolerances. It is something we cannot control and makes you feel like a freak when it is not understood.

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    I find it very discouraging to go to a store to try to find gluten-free foods in one place (it is a form of discrimination to have them scattered all over the store if, indeed, they have any). They put all of the ethnic foods in their own separate areas and all together. Many restaurants "claim" to follow your instructions when after eating the so called "safe" food only to be sick after that! It is very discouraging!!! As for schools, they do not allow peanuts because of the allergic reaction to some of the children - don't Celiac patients fit into the same category?

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    Gluten-free food options should be available at all restaurants and at all grocery stores. It is becoming more prevalent than ever and it is difficult for school children as well as adults!

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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.

    I also have celiac disease. I travel for a living. What's most difficult is trying to find just enough food to keep me in ONE meal a day - without having to haul bread that weighs as much as a brick every time I go somewhere. I've been left with MULTIPLE deficiencies due to malnutrition by not being diagnosed early. So YES, celiac disease is a true disease and carries many health issues with it. Spend some time in Europe - or Brazil as an example. ALL foods are properly labelled and marketed and restaurant staff are very well informed about foods and what they can do to some people. I'm Canadian. We have many areas at the University of Toronto as an example, where students can go to eat if they're ridden with food allergies... unfortunately, celiac disease still hasn't been properly addressed. However, I can say that Toronto is a blooming metropolis of epicure and knowledgeable chefs.

     

    I challenge von Spakovsky to eat like we MUST eat every day for a month... but better yet, let's put a drop of arsenic or other poison in his food each meal and each coffee. He'll get the idea soon enough.

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    My main concern is the title of your article. Celiac disease is very specifically NOT an allergy. It is an auto immune disease. And the DoJ seems excessive to bring them in, but what are they there for? In the end, when you want your justice and no one will help, who is the department working FOR us to make sure we get taken care of? DoJ... So yes, in the end it IS their business.

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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.

    Celiac disease is not a food allergy... part of the process is to maintain a gluten-free diet. So celiac disease, which is known to damage the bowels and intestines would be the disability. I don't think it should be listed as a disability, however, I think it's important to educate yourself prior to posting on a site about celiac disease if you do not know what it is.

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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.

    I'm not sure where you were able to find out that a lot of colleges and universities have gluten free options but the ones here in Florida do not unless you mean out west or in Canada.

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    Every one is right it is really hard to eat at a college because I have celiac disease and the college that I'm going to does not accommodate for people who have celiac disease because I had asked them when I started there and they told me no that they don't have anything that is gluten free except for maybe fruit. That's the main reason why I can not stay on campus because they do not have any food that I can eat its just like going out to a restaurant to eat its hard because so many restaurants are ignorant about the allergy . So I agree with the people who said that colleges should accommodate for the ones who have celiac disease. Many colleges are very ignorant with celiac disease that's why I'm going to college to become a dietitian and to get my PhD so I can travel around to different colleges and schools to explain about the disease and to get them to understand how important it is to have gluten free food for people who have celiac disease. I also agree with the people who said that its a form of discrimination to have the gluten free food all over the place and then you can't find it. I have gone to 2 colleges here in Florida neither of them accommodate for people with celiac disease.

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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.

    I have Gluten Ataxia, an autoimmune that attacks my cerebellum causing brain damage. As much as I hate to admit it, it is like being handicapped. I love Red Robin, Cheeseburger Paradise and Bagger Dave's and Ruby Tuesdays places where I can feel safe. If a restaurant does not appear to know what they are doing, I have them bring me the containers or take me into their kitchen where I can read them. The worst was at Applebees who claims to have options safe for gluten-free. I order straight vegetables and in the bowl near the bottom is a piece of pasta. Apparently they put their pasta right next to their veggies in their line. And upon complaining to the manager, I am told that his line order is determined by corporate and their is nothing he can do. I should have made them pay for my emergency room visit to get a high dose steroid. You can bet I now ask more questions like where my food is being prepped and what is around it that can cross contaminate.

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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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