I have recently been very angered and outspoken about being told that while paying to take a class at a local community college, if I have low blood sugar and need to drink a juice box, I must either: 1) become classified disabled or 2) drink the juice standing in the corner. I have been further infuriated by the feedback by parents who think their children with diabetes are disabled, others who believe being labeled diabetic is “no big deal” and still other diabetics who think they cannot possibly graduate from school without the classification.
This is unfathomable to me; the brain is just not computing these concepts. Why is this? Why is it that some people think they cannot perform basic life tasks, as a diabetic, without assistance? Why is it that some parents honestly believe their children are disabled because they have diabetes? Why is that some feel it completely acceptable and necessary to label themselves someone who needs help simply because they have a chronic disease?
That is, after all, what diabetes is – a chronic disease. Webster’s dictionary does not define diabetes as a disability. It defines it as a disease characterized by an excessive discharge of urine.
On the other hand, Webster’s defines a disability as something that disqualifies or incapacitates. It is something that makes one unable, unfit, ineffective, cripple or to make one legally incapable. What part of those adjectives defines any diabetic who “simply” needs to take insulin, test blood sugar, and eat as necessary?
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The use of the word “disabled” in reference to diabetes seems to come into play because schools, employers, and a variety of establishments do not behave humanely and permit the necessary treatment of diabetes. Therefore, in order to force people to behave reasonably, the federal government defined diabetes as a disability relative to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The government, therefore, foces Americans to behave in a manner that will not be detrimental to diabetic treatment.
To enforce the point, according to the EEOC.gov Website, diabetes is a disability “when it does not significantly affect a person's everyday activities, but the employer treats the individual as if it does.”
Relative to my situation ... that is me being told to either drink a juice in the corner or become formally classified “disabled,” the EEOC.gov Website states, “there are no ‘magic words’ that a person has to use when requesting a reasonable accommodation. A person simply has to tell the employer that she needs an adjustment or change at work because of her diabetes.”
Further, it states the patient is simply required to make a request for reasonable accommodation. “If the employer does not already know that an employee has diabetes, the employer can ask the employee for verification from a health care professional.” Assuming, the word “employee” can be substituted with the word “student,” my interpretation is that since I have already informed both the instructor and the Dean of Students that I have diabetes, I have no further obligations. Thus, there needs to be no such designation of “disability.”
Back to the fact that I believe using the word “disabled” relative to diabetes is unfathomable. In the midst of my reading 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes by Sheri R. Colbert, PhD and Steven V. Edelman, MD, I had a revelation about why I refuse to refer to myself as disabled. I do believe I’ve got it! The third secret in the book is “Refuse to be a victim” – a philosophy I have maintained for more than thirty-two years since my diagnosis. Patients who the authors spoke to share share my beliefs. Bob Elders of North Carolina says “I hate using my diabetes as an excuse for anything.” Jane Dohrmann of Norfok, Virginia says “There are things in every diabetic person’s life that require a ‘go-get-um’ approach. I think it’s one of those factors that is similar to ‘stubborn,’ but holds a different tone.”
The authors could not have worded it any better, “the choice to view yourself as empowered despite having diabetes is truly yours and yours alone. Once you make that pro-active choice, you’ll never want to go back to viewing yourself otherwise. I make pro-active choices every day. I have felt empowered to “just do it” for as long as I remember. They are right; I never want to every view myself as anything other than empowered – especially not disabled! Hopefully, some day, the parents and other diabetics will feel the same powerful “emotional secret.”
Doris J. Dickson