The question of whether diabetes is a disability is one that has sparked much debate and confusion over the years. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide, but its status as a disability is not always clear-cut. In this article, we will explore the complexities of this issue, debunk myths, and clarify the facts surrounding diabetes and disability.

A diabetes diagnosis will raise many questions and how it can best be managed. One particular issue that might come up is the question of whether or not diabetes is classified as a disability. It is an important question because when a condition is recognized as a disability in the eyes of the law, the people who have that condition are entitled to extra protection and, sometimes, benefits.

What is a disability?

In the United States, the government’s Social Security Administration (SSA) defines a disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairments, which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

As that definition makes clear, evidence from medical professionals is required to prove that an individual’s condition can be classified as a disability.

How would diabetes fit with the definition of a disability?

Diabetes is a condition that impacts the function of the endocrine system, i.e., the parts of the body that regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. The consequences of diabetes can include a wide range of potentially serious problems throughout the body, such as kidney disease, high blood pressure, eye problems, and an increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Diabetes can be classified as either type 1 or type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It is caused by a malfunction in the body’s immune system which makes it prevents the cells in the pancreas from producing insulin which means that the body cannot properly process sugar. The more common type 2 diabetes (which accounts for over 90% of all cases in the US) stems from the body producing less insulin than it used to and becoming resistant to insulin.

Is diabetes a disability?

Of course, the answer to this question varies depending on where you ask it – some countries do recognize diabetes as a disability and others do not. In the United States, the agency that decides whether a condition should be classified as a disability is the Social Security Administration (SSA).

  • In the United States, diabetes is defined as a disability under federal law because of the serious impact it has on the functioning of the endocrine system. Specifically, the SSA says that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes “are chronic disorders that can have serious disabling complications that meet the duration requirement” (given in the definition of diabetes above).
  • Diabetes is still considered a disability in the US even if it is being well-managed and not impacting the diabetic person’s quality of life, in other words, even if it is “invisible”. That means that all diabetic people are entitled to protection under the Equality Act of 2021.
  • Relevant federal laws that determine who is classed as disabled and what protection they can get include the Americans with Disabilities Act (which was amended by the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act of 2008).
  • It’s also important to note that federal law can trump state law in matters of disability in the United States. So, if a particular state’s laws give less protection to a disabled person than the federal laws require, the federal law takes precedence. However, if a state gives extra protections to disabled people, then you are entitled to those protections on top of what federal law offers.
  • Check your own state’s legislation, to see what protection applies to you if you are diabetic.

Debunking Myths

Myth: All diabetics are disabled.
Fact: Not all individuals with diabetes consider themselves disabled. Many people with diabetes lead active and healthy lives with minimal impact on their daily activities.

Myth: Diabetes is always a disability.
Fact: Diabetes affects people differently, and its impact on daily life varies widely. Some individuals may experience severe complications that limit their activities, while others manage their condition effectively without any significant limitations.

Legal Perspective

Classifying diabetes as a disability means that people with the condition are entitled to certain protections under the law. For example, in the United States, it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people at school, at work, in public places, and in any interactions with law enforcement agencies. In some cases, the extent of protection varies depending on the severity of the diabetic person’s condition.

Here are some examples of the ways in which diabetic people are protected by federal law in those different settings (schools, workplaces, public places, and when interacting with law enforcement):

  • Schools are required to provide trained staff members who are able to monitor blood sugar levels and administer insulin to diabetic students if required. If students are capable of managing their own diabetes, the school must allow them to do so anywhere and at any time that they choose. Schools also cannot prevent diabetic students from taking part in activities or transfer them to another school on account of their diabetes.
  • Workplaces are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for diabetic staff members to ensure that their condition does not affect their working life. Such accommodations can include, for example, regular breaks for diabetic members of staff so that they can check their blood sugar levels. It is a good idea to submit any requests for additional reasonable accommodations in writing as that will make it more likely that your request will be understood and granted.
  • People with serious cases of diabetes that require visits to a hospital or another healthcare facility at least twice a year have extra protection under the Family Medical Leave Act provided that they meet its other requirements (e.g., having worked for the same employer for at least 12 months).
  • No public places can discriminate against people with diabetes or prevent them from having access to whatever they require to manage their condition. For example, diabetic care supplies such as insulin and the syringes used to administer it are permitted to pass through airport security despite the fact that such items would normally be confiscated.
  • In any dealings with the criminal justice system, diabetic people must be offered “adequate care,” which includes such things as the monitoring of their blood sugar levels, access to insulin when required, and referrals to appropriate specialists if needed.

Does being diabetic entitle you to disability benefits?

Again, the answer to this question varies depending on the country you live in.

In the United States, being diabetic does not automatically qualify you for disability benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To be eligible for such benefits you would have to have other serious complications.

For example, to qualify for SSDI, a diabetic person has to have a case that is so severe that they either have not been able to work for one year or they are expected to die within the next 12 months.

The sorts of serious complications that can leave someone with diabetes unable to work (and thus eligible for benefits) include the following:

  • Coronary artery disease, diabetic retinopathy, peripheral vascular disease, diabetic gastroparesis leading to abnormal gastrointestinal motility, a peripheral neurovascular disease that leads to the amputation of a limb, diabetic peripheral and sensory neuropathies, skin infections, diabetic nephropathy, and cognitive impairments including anxiety and depression
  • Cerebral edema, intestinal necrosis, cardiac arrhythmias, and seizures stemming from diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • Altered mental states, loss of consciousness, or cognitive defects resulting from hypoglycemia.

Any benefits awarded to disabled people in the US are paid from six months after the date on which you became disabled. If you apply for benefits and are refused them, you do have a right of appeal, and you can, ultimately, take your case before a judge if you still believe you have been unjustly denied benefits.

It’s important to note that the position on diabetes and some disability benefits does vary from state to state, so you should check your home state’s laws to see if you are eligible there and identify any other conditions that might apply.

Conclusion

The question of whether diabetes is a disability is not easily answered with a simple yes or no. It is a complex issue that depends on individual circumstances, the type and severity of diabetes, and the legal and social context. While some individuals with diabetes may qualify for disability protections under the law, many others do not see themselves as disabled and manage their condition effectively without any limitations.

Ultimately, the focus should be on supporting individuals with diabetes in managing their condition, ensuring access to healthcare and resources, and promoting inclusivity and understanding within society. Whether or not diabetes is considered a disability, those affected by it deserve empathy, respect, and equal opportunities to lead fulfilling lives.