Before I began my graduate studies, I had no idea just how important the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was...and not just for food allergies!
In 2008, I was newly married, not a parent, completing my second year of teaching, no real knowledge of food allergies, and living in Texas (we've lived in three other states since then...I measure my time in the last decade by where we were living...). My knowledge of ADA was limited to what I needed to know to teach...which was embarrassingly scant.
Fast forward 9 years. Three states. Two kids. One Masters degree (almost!)...and a whole LOT of knowledge about food allergies later...here we are!
It has been an interesting semester. I am wrapping up two classes this semester: an independent study (that I have had the incredible fortune of doing with the professor that has made the biggest impact on my life since moving to TN), and a legal issues course (interestingly enough with that same professor). So while I never intended for the focus of my independent study to revolve around legal issues, I almost couldn't help myself in light of the fact that I am taking this other course simultaneously.
So when I stumbled upon the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), I was amazed! This thing is a big deal! The ADAAA expanded the definition of “disability” AND rejected the holding in two Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the definition of “disability” and related terms. It also also rejected further decisions by lower courts, which “incorrectly found … that people with a range of substantially limiting impairments are not people with disabilities.”
The ADAAA also took away the statute that if a disability could be treated with medication (like food allergies with epinephrine), or was episodic, it was not a disability.
As a food allergy mom of a four year old, I have taken for granted that I know for a fact that his life threatening food allergies are covered by the ADA. I did not know that it is only due to the ADAAA nine years ago. In fact, according to Shackelford, some colleges would "specifically exclude “allergies” from disability policies and guidelines and indicate that allergies are not considered a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act." Shackelford went on to say that "institutions whose disability policies contain exclusions for allergies are backed by a number of federal court decisions, holding that various types of allergies are not covered by the ADA. Federal courts have routinely rejected ADA disability claims based on food allergies, such as to peanuts and peanut products, and allergies to latex, dust mites, animals, perfumes and fragrances" (2009).
There is still work to be done to make college and university campuses accessible to students with food allergies, and some are doing great work (I've tried to highlight some via social media this month!). And while there is still work to be done, I am also very confident that the world today in 2017 for our food allergy children/young adults is a better place than it was 10 years ago. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Shackelford, A. L. (2009). Food allergies may, may not be a ‘disability’ under the ADA, Rehab Act. Disability Compliance for Higher Education 14(7), 3.
My name is Brittany Dye, and I am a food allergy mom and a graduate student in higher education administration at Middle Tennessee State University. These two parts of my world have collided, and I am passionate about successful food allergy management in higher education.