A recent debate over what food options are available to college students who have to buy meal plans has sparked the question over what fits the definition of a disability. Should food allergies be considered a disability that others need to accommodate?
Just recently the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with Lesley University, which is located in an East Coast state, about requiring students to buy a meal plan but not having meals that accommodate their food allergies. In this case, it had to do with the university not providing gluten-free meals. While some complain that gluten-free dieting is just a fad, for many it’s a way of life because of the debilitating effects of celiac disease.
According to the agreement, the school will compensate the students and accommodate their food allergies. The students’ complaint was ruled to apply under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A professor of bioethics at Johns Hopkins University said that the thinking has changed on how a disability is defined. He said the thinking has shifted from someone’s own body being the disabling force to the “environment around you.” For example, a person who is wheelchair bound is disabled in an environment where there are no wheelchair ramps.
Some worry that rushing to include more conditions as “disabilities” will lead to onerous new regulations, while others believe that people who are physically disabled may resent people with newly defined disabilities, such as food allergies.
What do you think? Should people who have food allergies and other conditions linked to diet be considered disabled? Is it someone else’s responsibility to accommodate the disability? After all, a person who has a condition like celiac disease cannot control whether to have the condition.
Source: Forbes, “What’s A Disability? Some Push For The Lines To Be Redrawn,” Alice Walton, Jan. 25, 2013