Work and School With Diabetes

Just because you or a loved one has diabetes doesn’t mean the world stops. People with diabetes still have to go to work and school, essentially leading ordinary lives. Fortunately, with proper management, there is no need for concern most of the time.

Nonetheless, out of the ordinary situations do arise and sometimes certain situations need a bit of finessing when it comes to a particular boss, teacher or school administrator. Additionally, sometimes emergencies do arise and proper advanced planning is prudent.


Paying attentionFor this reason, families with children need to know their rights and obligations with helping their child have a safe, yet active and fulfilling school experience. My experience is that some schools and school districts are very good about accommodating special circumstances. Unfortunately, I have also found other schools are less accommodating.

However, if your child’s school receives federal funds, which essentially includes every public school in the country, then you do have protections. Take a look at this article to learn the basics about what accommodations are required and expected to keep your child safe. Children in School With Diabetes


Correspondingly, most of us do have to work for a living. As such, we need to know what protections we have if we need some time to get our blood sugar normalized or attend special medical training, etc. You also want to know your rights if you think your employer is discriminating against you.

Diabetes is typically considered a disability under the law. For more, workplace rights Does My Boss Think I Have a Disability Because I Have Diabetes?

Diabetes Camps

Going to summer camp is great fun! When your child has diabetes, you need to be aware of their special needs, thus make sure you know What to Take to Diabetes Camp?

What to Take to Diabetes Camp?

camping cartoon

camping cartoonYou’ve investigated all the camps. You’ve made your decision. You can’t wait to go. BUT, what do you take to diabetes camp? Is it any different than any other camp experience?

Once you are accepted, most camps will forward an orientation package that provides certain recommendations to campers. Some of what you should bring will be based on your child’s age, the camp location (e.g., Alaska versus Florida), and any specialized activities planned. However, here are some recommended items you may want to think about bringing or ask the camp about whether they will be provided.

Nuts and Bolts Items:

  • Sleeping bag (and or sheets) and pillow
  • Alarm Clock
  • Writing Items (pen, paper, envelopes, stamps)
  • Clothes (enough for the entire stay or at least enough to get to laundry day)
  • T-shirts, underwear, pants, sweatpants, socks (lots of them!)
  • Towel
  • Rain and/or other appropriate jacket
  • Toiletries (tooth brush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.)
  • Two pairs of tennis shoes (in case one gets wet!)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Camera and extra memory cards
  • Spending Money (for the camp store and any day trips or excursions)
  • Your Contact Information (parents, doctor, and other emergency contacts)
  • Medications (if any)
  • Detailed Information on Medications (including dosage, etc.)
  • Special Dietary Restrictions

Things to ask the camp about:

  • Map of how to get there.
  • Mock Schedule of Activities
  • What type of monitoring of blood sugar/diet is undertaken, given increased activity level?
  • Counselor/Staff/After Hours Contact Information
  • Recommended Items to bring (including specific items related to that camp).

Hopefully, this list will get you started for what to take to diabetes camp! Have Fun!!

Still haven’t decided on a camp? For a comprehensive list of camps, click here.

By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed February 2013.

Diabetes Section 504 Plans

kids walking to school

kids walking to schoolAs much as a parent with a diabetic child would sometimes like, you cannot be with your child 24 hours a day to protect them. Entrusting their school to protect them is simply part of the process of living with diabetes. Working with the school to develop a care plan is the first step in ensuring your child’s safety.

This article mainly discusses this process in relation to type 1 diabetes in school, as this type is the most common in children. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has excellent resource for parents dealing with this issue. The JDRF lists four key components:

Be Prepared. Once you know your child has diabetes, you need to start learning about your rights before you set a meeting with the school. You also need to know what you want from the school before the meeting. The goal of the meeting is to establish a Care Plan for your child. How will your child be cared for on a day to day basis, what happens in an emergency, and how are staff, teachers and other children going to be educated and trained.

Most schools will be familiar with type 1 diabetes and be looking to help. Nonetheless, you do have rights in case you receive some push back from the school. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 covers all schools receiving federal funds. Section 504 of the Act provides for a Care Plan (often referred to as a 504 Plan), for children who have a disability (diabetes included). It is an agreement between the school and the parent that establishes guidelines for treating your child’s disability.

If your school does not receive federal funds, don’t worry there are similar protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Thus, you are well within your rights to establish a workable plan with the school. In case your school is having trouble adjusting, the JDRF publishes an 88 page guide for schools. You may want to read this and bring it with you to the meeting.

Meeting. You should meet with the school. The meeting(s) should be with the principal, any teachers of your child, the school nurse, cafeteria manager, physical education teacher and any coaches or extracurricular activity teachers. Your child can certainly be at the meeting.

Strategy. Agree on a strategy with the school, including emergency communication and training guidelines. Many parents also provide certain resources to the school. For example, snack packs which have pre-measured snacks. Supply packs which have glucagon, syringes, glucose monitors, etc. (anything your child may need).

Don’t forget substitute teachers. Some parents advocate having a paper with your child’s picture and emergency instructions at the teacher’s desk, in case a substitute is there. A presentation to your child’s classmates may also be appropriate. Learning about diabetes in school is a great way to introduce the subject.

Follow – Up. Make sure you follow up with the school and teachers on an ongoing basis. Good communication is critical. You want to make sure they are aware of any changes in your child’s health and that your child’s health is first in mind.


Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation,, Type 1 Diabetes in School (Accessed January 2009).
By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed February 2012.

Americans with Disabilities Act and Diabetes Discrimination

discrimination meeting

discrimination meeting[2013 Editor’s Note: The Americans with Disabilities Act and diabetes material has not been updated to reflect 2008 changes in the law. The Act was revised to provide additional protections for people with disabilities. The EEOC has not issued additional guidelines regarding the changes. As such, the following article will be updated to reflect these changes once EEOC guidance has been issued. However, the protections discussed in the article will almost assuredly be increased under the new law.]

Is diabetes affecting your job performance? Does your boss think it is? Either way, you should know that the law may protect you. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

Who’s Protected?

The Act covers private employers with 15 or more employees. State and local government employees are covered as well. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcement of the law.

Federal workers are covered under a similar act called the Rehabilitation Act. You should also be aware that there are numerous state laws protecting individuals with disabilities. These state laws often provide greater protections and cover smaller employers.

Is Diabetes a Disability?

Whether a person has a disability is made on a case by case basis. There is no simple or definitive test. However, an individual is considered to have a disability if it significantly limits one or more of an individual’s major life activity. The EEOC has issued guidelines further explaining:

Major life activities are basic activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty, such as eating or caring for oneself. Diabetes also is a disability when it causes side effects or complications that substantially limit a major life activity. Even if diabetes is not currently substantially limiting because it is controlled by diet, exercise, oral medication, and/or insulin, and there are no serious side effects, the condition may be a disability because it was substantially limiting in the past (i.e., before it was diagnosed and adequately treated). Finally, 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. For example, an employer may assume that a person is totally unable to work because he has diabetes.

Employment Application Process

Both employers and employees have certain rights during the hiring process. Initially, an employer cannot ask an applicant about their medical history, including whether they have diabetes, or whether they use insulin or other prescription medications. AFTER a job offer, the employer can ask about medical history and can require a medical exam. However, all applicants must be treated the same.

If an employer learns the applicant has diabetes, they can only ask the individual if they need a reasonable accommodation to do the job and what the accommodation is. See below for a discussion on reasonable accommodations. The employer can only withdraw the job offer if the person cannot perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and does not pose a direct threat to himself or others (see below).

What can Happen During Employment

Generally, an employer should not ask an employee about their medical condition, unless they have a reasonable and legitimate reason. Normally, most issues evolve out of poor performance. As such, performance related issues should be treated like every other employee, unless the employee asks for a reasonable accommodation to do a particular job based on their diabetes.

If the employer also asks all employees to provide a doctor’s note for use of sick leave, then this may be permitted. However, this practice is a bit irregular, as most employers do not require this unless extended leave is required, such as under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The other exception is if the employer has a legitimate and objective belief that an employee’s condition is causing a direct threat to himself or others.

Reasonable Accommodations – When are they Reasonable?

Reasonable accommodations can vary greatly, so long as they do not cause undue hardship to the employer. This definition is very vague and open ended. It can also be interpreted differently for different types of jobs. Nonetheless, the EEOC provides specific examples of accommodations that would probably be reasonable:

  • A private Area to test blood sugar or take insulin.
  • Breaks to eat, drink, and take medication and rest until blood sugar returns to normal.
  • Modified work schedules or positions
  • Leave to undergo treatment, training or therapy.

What is a Direct Threat?

A direct threat is one where the risk cannot be reduced or eliminated by a reasonable accommodation. The direct threat assessment must be made based on facts and objective criteria, not myth or conjecture. For example, your supervisor knows you have diabetes and sees you sweating and acting dizzy. You tell him you have low blood sugar and are feeling faint. You also happen to be controlling a large crane with other workers around. Your boss can stop you from working and require a doctor’s note clearing you to return to work.


Diabetes affects people differently at different times. Complications from the disease can also cause unexpected problems for both employers and employees. If a problem does occur, usually open communication can solve most problems before they become bigger problems.

However, discrimination does occur. If you feel that you have been fired, laid-off, denied a promotion or otherwise treated unfairly because you have diabetes, then you should not hesitate to speak with the EEOC. Usually, you can have an initial consultation that is completely confidential. Don’t suffer in silence, learn your rights about how the Americans with Disabilities Act and diabetes affect each other.


EEOC, Questions and Answers About Diabetes in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act, October 2003 (Accessed January 2009).

By Erich Schultz, last reviewed May 2013.