A disability can be obvious if you’re blind or use a wheelchair. But there are many less obvious conditions -- including diabetes -- that qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
That means you have legal protection from discrimination in several areas, including employment. If your diabetes is severe, you may qualify for disability income.
Diabetes doesn’t keep most people out of work -- any type of work, from sitting at a desk to driving a race car. But if your diabetes causes serious complications, you may be able to qualify for benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA).
S ocial Security disability insurance (SSDI). SSDI provides help to get you back to work, and income if you can’t. It also qualifies you for Medicare and prescription drug assistance. You may be eligible for SSDI if you’ve worked for 5 of the last 10 years and meet the SSA definition of disability. This means you have a physical or mental impairment that will last a year or cause death within a year.
Diabetes doesn’t automatically qualify. Insurance companies weigh it on a case-by-case basis, and they make decisions on disability insurance based on how much diabetes has affected your body -- for example, if it has resulted in nerve damage or blindness.
Supplemental Security Income program (SSI). What if you have limited income and resources, but don’t qualify for SSDI? You may qualify for SSI, which gives you a monthly assistance check. In most states, children who qualify for SSI can also get Medicaid, a health care program for people with low income.
Types of Disability
Why is diabetes considered a disability, especially if you feel you have it under control? The World Health Organization says there are three parts to a disability:
Impairment. This relates to a problem with your body and how it works, or your mental function: loss of vision or memory, for example.
Activity limitation. That means you have a challenge doing something non-disabled people can. This could relate to vision, hearing, walking, or problem-solving.
Participation restrictions. This means you might not be able to take part in normal daily activities the way you would if you didn’t have a disability. These can include working, social activities, and getting health care, among other things.
Applying for Jobs if You Have Diabetes
When you apply for a job, you may think you have to tell that you have diabetes -- or that you have to answer any questions about it. You don’t. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act says employers can’t ask any questions during a job interview that could reveal the existence of a disability.
A few examples of questions that a potential employer can’t ask you:
- Do you have a disability that would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
- How many days were you sick last year?
- Have you ever filed for workers' compensation?
- What prescription drugs do you currently take?
Medical questions and medical exams may be allowed after you receive a job offer and before your work begins. But your employer needs to ask these questions of other applicants, not just you, for them to be legal. But your boss can’t take back your offer because you reveal you have diabetes.
Your employer can withdraw the offer, however, if you can’t perform the essential functions of the job, even with reasonable accommodations.
You’re past the interview process, past the offer, and on the job. You’re entitled to allowances that help you manage your diabetes. These are known as reasonable accommodations.
Reasonable accommodations for diabetes include:
- Breaks to check blood sugar, eat a snack, take medication, and go to the bathroom
- If you have a problem with your blood sugar level, a place to rest until it goes back to normal
- Ability to keep diabetes supplies and food nearby
- The chance to work a modified work schedule, or work a standard shift instead of a swing shift
Travel to and From Work
You may need to travel for your job, but your medical supplies won’t stop you from meeting this need. You can take diabetes supplies through security. This includes:
- Insulin and products to dispense it, such as vials and pens
- Unused syringes when you have them along with injectable medication
- Used syringes when you carry them in a hard-surface container to store used syringes and test strips
- Liquids (including water, juice, or liquid nutrition) or gels
If you feel your employer has discriminated against you at work because of your diabetes, you can begin the process of a discrimination lawsuit. It starts with filing a charge of discrimination -- a signed statement that your organization engaged in employment discrimination -- with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Someone from the EEOC will then contact and interview you. You’ll discuss your concerns and learn more about whether filing a discrimination lawsuit is the right path for you. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
If you decide to file a discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC will provide a “notice of right to sue.” At this point, you have permission to file a lawsuit in federal or state court.