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Diabetes - Disability or Excuse?

Doris' Blog
By: dorisjdickson

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Posted: Feb 17, 2009 8:29
  • Diabetes - Disability or Excuse?

    I have spent 32 years keeping diabetes from being an excuse for anything.  It is not an excuse for a bad mood, a bad grade in school, an undone household chore, a missed day from work … nothing!  I am in a bad mood because I am in a bad mood.  I did not get an “A” because I did not deserve it.  I did not vacuum because I did not think it was important enough.  I did not go to work because it was a choice I made. 


    I believe the classification of “disabled” is reserved for those people who truly are physically or intellectually incapable of doing something.  For example - they cannot walk; they cannot think; they cannot function.  Diabetes, in and of itself, does not keep a person from doing any of these things as long as blood sugar is kept under control and, therefore, complications are avoided.  A diabetic becomes disabled when they go blind or have a leg amputated, etc.  The disease is hardly disabling.


    However, I believe that any diabetic should be permitted to care for him or herself, as needed in public, without a doctor’s letter, without begging, without guilt or shame and without a federal classification, stating someone should allow them to do so.  In other words, employers, teachers, etc. should have enough common sense and humanity to just say “OK, take care of yourself as needed.  If you need anything, please ask.”


    I also expect diabetics will not use the disease as an excuse to get out of the standard every day requirements of a job they accepted, a class they signed up for, etc.  This article about diabetes and disability classifications, posted in the Seattle Times, infuriates me.


    According to the article an employee with type 2 diabetes, working for a public-utility company, was fired because he “he failed to take a test showing he could use a respirator that had little to do with his work as a welding metallurgy specialist.”  How difficult is that, I asked.  The article also says the employee’s position is engineering-services related and he rarely leaves the office.  OK, on the surface, the test makes little sense but that is the employer’s prerogative. 


    The article continues to say that the claimant refused to perform “occasional out-of-area assignments” because they interfered with his insulin treatment and diet.  Now, I am really annoyed.  That is just plain hogwash. 


    Several years ago, I was employed as a technical writer for the South Florida Water Management Water District in West Palm Beach, Florida.  My primary role was writing processes and procedures for the field technicians.  It was necessary to understand how these processes and procedures were implemented in the field.  Therefore, it was my job to take “fieldtrips” to the equipment sites.  


    I remember two field trips vividly.  One was to a weather station and the other was out in the canals on an airboat to see the censor equipment and the variety of installation sites.  The weather for both field trips was sunny and hot.  So, as a responsible diabetic I prepared for the field trip.  I collected my lunch bag/cooler, my insulin, test strips, juice, sandwich, snacks, and ice pack.  Off to the job site we went.  Both trips were informative, productive, fun and, from a health perspective, uneventful.


    Now, the court ruled, "The ADA defines 'disability' as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.”  Further, they said, “Diabetes is a physical impairment because it affects the digestive, hemic and endocrine systems, and eating is a major life activity."

    How exactly did this person’s “occasional out-of-area assignments” keep him from eating, testing or taking insulin?  Why could he not do, as I did, and prepare for the assignment?  How exactly is insulin dependent diabetes a “physical or mental impairment” that limits a major life activity such as eating? 

    The diabetic does not need a vending machine, a restaurant, or a buffet to eat a healthy meal.  They do not need a secluded area to check blood sugar and take insulin.  They simply need notice to prepare for a deviation in routine and the ability to eat, check blood sugar, and take insulin.  Therefore, as long as no one prohibits the diabetic’s right to self-care, there are no “major life activities” to be excused from or avoided simply because a person has received a diabetes diagnosis. 

    I believe this diabetic’s lawsuit and the court’s decision are an absolute setback to the standards that most diabetics set for themselves.  Most insulin-dependent diabetics do not whine or complain and request anything other than the right to self-care.  Do not classify me like this diabetic.  It serves no purpose to enjoying a healthy and productive diabetic life.  On the other hand, do not tell me I cannot exercise self-care without "permission" from a court.  You will get quite a fight.

    Doris J. Dickson




    Comments (4):
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  • By: JujuPhi: Mar, 03, 2009 11:07 AM

    Hi Doris,

    I don't want to be in seen as a disabled person. I have diabetes and since I don't have any complications I don't think I have a disability.  It scares me that other diabetics might want to be placed in this category. 

    I want to be productive and have a healthy life!

    By: Kelly59: Feb, 19, 2009 12:42 PM

    Although I am technically disabled because I have problems walking and use a walker, I don’t use that as an excuse.  As you know Doris, I make an effort to use my treadmill daily, probably more than most otherwise “healthy” people do.


    When I read the article, I actually laughed and wondered if the guy ever took a vacation away from home or ate in a restaurant – if he does either of those things, he certainly can’t use that as an “excuse” not to do his job.


    As a former accountant, working 12-14 hour days was the norm.  Even back in the days of the old insulins and eating meals on time, I found a way to make it work and never came up with an excuse.  My boss frequently scheduled meetings at lunch time – I never once asked him not to, I packed a sandwich and ate in the car on the way.  It was normal for me to work at clients offices – I put a sandwich in my purse or a cooler and went.  Even if I stayed in the office, things were often too hectic to have a scheduled lunch break.  I packed a lunch and I kept things like peanut butter crackers in my desk just in case.


    When I did hyperbaric oxygen treatments in Pittsburgh, I had to stay there for 12 weeks because of the distance.  One week was spent in a hotel, the other 11 weeks I had a small apartment.  Most hotels have small refrigerators available.  I brought groceries to make meals.  I usually had to be at the wound center about 11 and was in the chamber at noon so I took a sandwich with me to eat before going in the chamber. 


    I think the real “excuse” here is that he does not want to do his job, but being diabetic has nothing to do with it.

    By: JujuPhi: Feb, 18, 2009 16:32 PM

    Doris, I could not agree more!  As a diabetic, I make sure I have what I need in case I go on a trip, to class, or to the gym,t his is my responsibility as a diabetic, but this does not make me a disable person!  Thank you for posting this!

    By: FatCatAnna: Feb, 18, 2009 11:32 AM

    Hear, hear Doris!  I'll be standing right along side of you ready to fight what I consider back to the Stone Age decision! I couldn't have written your post any better - we have similar opinions in this latest court case (and many others as well - at various forums I post at on diabetes).  I have never EVER used my diabetes as an excuse not to be able to do something. 

    I have posted your link both on my Facebook page - as well as the Diabetes1.org group that is found on Facebook.   It's too good a post not to share with the rest of the world.


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