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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Celiac Disease Can Be a Disability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo: CC--Keoni Cabral

    Celiac.com 11/19/2013 - There's an interesting take on the precedent-setting ruling issued early in 2013 by the U.S. Justice Department, which found that celiac disease and other serious food allergies and sensitivities can be considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The ruling arises from a settlement between the Justice Department and Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts that came after Justice investigated the university in response to a student complaint that the school’s mandatory meal plan did not provide sufficient gluten-free food alternatives, and that the school did not accommodate the needs of those on gluten-free diets by excusing their participation in the meal plan or providing a reasonable alternative.

    The ruling has led a number of colleges and universities with student meal programs to make efforts to offer suitable options for students with celiac disease and other serious food allergies.

    However, Janet Raasch, points out in a blog entry on lawyers.com that the ruling applies more broadly to schools and restaurants at large. Raasch says that "…schools, restaurants and other places that serve food can be exposed to legal challenges if they fail to honor requests for accommodations by people with celiac disease."

    It's important to remember that Ms. Raasch is not a lawyer. So, while she has an interesting take, and it remains to be seen if gluten-free options become more numerous partly out of a push for restaurants and other food service establishments to follow in the footsteps of colleges and universities with student meal programs.

    What do you think will be the impact if schools, restaurants and food purveyors treat celiac and other food allergies as an ADA disability? Will it mean more gluten-free options? Better standards? Share your comments below.

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    The ADA is a cruel joke, and people with serious physical disabilities are not getting accommodations, or fair treatment. So people with food issues are SOL, too. Example: People who have asthma or allergies triggered by strong perfumes and fragrances, can't go out to public places, without risking severe reactions. People who are hard of hearing or have vision limitations, are out of luck. Those with limits of mobility find many barriers in public. So, people with food restrictions won't fair much better.

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    I was invited to a day-long conference at the White House in June. It included lunch. I let the staff know in advance that I had celiac disease and asked if they could provide a lunch that met my needs. The answer was simply "no." I had to bring my own brown bag lunch to the White House. I finally got up the nerve and sent an email to Claudia Gordon, the White House liaison to the disability community, but I have not heard back from her.

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    I think the ADA should only be taken into consideration when, as in the case of the university in the article, they were forcing the students to purchase the meal plan and then not providing gluten free meals. I don't believe restaurants should be obliged to provide gluten free food or any type of allergy free food. It's to their financial benefit to do so but it's extremely difficult for them to cater to all the different allergies, etc, out there and I can't fault them for not wanting to be legally responsible. Schools should only have to be compliant if, as in the above case, they require their students to eat on school grounds. Otherwise, I think it will open the court system up to a lot more frivolous lawsuits. And who needs that?

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    I think if restaurants make accommodations for vegans or for kosher diets--which are lifestyle choices--they should feel obliged to accommodate a person with celiac or a food sensitivity.

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    We are currently having this issue at the university my daughter attends. She has contacted food services numerous times and talked to representatives but no significant changes have been made. I hope they will take this more seriously now.

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    We are currently having this issue at the university my daughter attends. She has contacted food services numerous times and talked to representatives but no significant changes have been made. I hope they will take this more seriously now.

    My daughter was released from her dorm contract without prejudice or financial penalty because food service could not guarantee gluten-free food prep, even for foods not naturally gluten-containing. She was able to get her own apartment with roommates who respected her dietary needs.

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    Celiac disease can cause such a horrible reaction as a result of contamination from wheat, barley, oats, that I shudder to think what these schools would do if they are sued as a result of non-compliance. I was contaminated in September of this year and spent 4 hours hooked up to an IV and anti vomiting medications. I was near an ER and collapsed just as I got to registration desk. To this day I still don't have a lot of my energy back (but I am working on it). How are educational institutions going to handle a like mine. I have two grandsons who hopefully will be able to go to college and not have to worry getting sick while studying for exams. I suspect, they may be getting their degrees through the internet just to protect themselves!!!!!!

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    From what I've seen, "gluten free accomodation" means "no gluten added". It's a wonderful idea, but I've gotten sick every time my school has made me a gluten free meal. People really need to be educated better in the food industry...

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    I think the ADA should only be taken into consideration when, as in the case of the university in the article, they were forcing the students to purchase the meal plan and then not providing gluten free meals. I don't believe restaurants should be obliged to provide gluten free food or any type of allergy free food. It's to their financial benefit to do so but it's extremely difficult for them to cater to all the different allergies, etc, out there and I can't fault them for not wanting to be legally responsible. Schools should only have to be compliant if, as in the above case, they require their students to eat on school grounds. Otherwise, I think it will open the court system up to a lot more frivolous lawsuits. And who needs that?

    There are gluten-free menus out there, however not gluten-free kitchen in which they are preparing the food. I won't eat in restaurants because of cross contamination. There is gluten floating all over their kitchens. In order to have a gluten-free menu they need a totally gluten-free menu. I bring my own food when we eat in a restaurant. With my celiac disease I fall under the ADA. With their gluten-free menu they should honor our request to have a gluten free kitchen.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams 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 biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as 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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