Is diabetes a disability? Understanding legal technicalities

Diabetes is such a common problem that people underestimates its power to hamper your lifestyle. Poor blood sugar control can cause dangerous and irreversible symptoms which can make difficult for the patient to earn a regular living. In this article we will to answer one of the important question “is diabetes a disability?

Before looking at the legal technicalities we, as a patient of diabetes, should try to answer the question “do we consider diabetes serious enough as a disability?”

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In India, where i live, diabetes is so common that people take this problem casually and do not make serious attempt to control their blood sugar.
These people are the ones who then suffer from serious complications later in life.

In my opinion, i consider diabetes as a disability.
What is the exact definition of disability?
The dictionary states disability as “the condition which limits person’s movements, senses or activities”

I am a Type 1 diabetic and i understand how difficult it is to keep up with the regular life.
Here i would like to state one of my life’s example

I am a badminton player.
This sport demands swift body movement and flexibility.
Ever since i got diagnosed with diabetes it gets very difficult for me to not get into Hypoglycemia state. Due to this problem, i have to take frequent short breaks to munch something sugary in order to avoid low blood sugar.

It is not only about the sport.
Diabetes has severely impacted my daily functioning, making me fully dependent on external source of insulin and testing strips.
That is what i have to say personally about diabetes as a disability, rest of the article if focused on the legal technicalities in US and India.

So is diabetes a disability?
For me, the answer is YES!!

Diabetes as a Disability in United States
Fortunately diabetes is considered as a disability in United States Law. It recognizes that diabetics patient may need financial/medical assistance to maintain their daily life style.

There are two types of benefit offered by the US government

a. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
This is specially for people who have worked full time for 5 years and had contributed in the US economy. In this plan, the administration recognize that you are not in the position to work full-time and contribute a monthly pay-check for your living needs.

b. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
This program is for people who are below poverty scale and have insignificant saving for life sustenance. With this plan you will get monthly check, the amount of which is fixed by the authority.

Please note that you are only eligible for SSI program when your monthly income is less than the amount set by the authorities. Before granting the SSI benefits, the authorities will consider your monthly earnings, your savings and your acquired property.
For children, the income of parents will be considered.

How to qualify for the Disability Benefits?

There is one problem with the US law that it do not list diabetes as a list of impairment in its listings known as “Blue Book”, which means that you are not approved of the disability benefits with the diagnosis of diabetes.
The benefits are for those who are unable to work because of diabetes complication. This means that you have to prove to the authorities that you are suffering from diabetic complications which make you unfit for any full time working opportunities.
According to the authorities a healthy and fit diabetic is not eligible for the disability benefits as they can easily pursue the work and make money.

The Impairments which qualify for the benefits
In order to avail the benefits you must be diagnosed with at-least one of the following complications:

1. Neuropathy- High blood sugar for prolonged period of time damage the body nerves causing extreme pain in body extremities (legs and hands). People suffering from neuropathy feel burning pain in their body parts making them unfit for the day jobs.

2. Diabetic Retinopathy- Loss of vision due to blood vessel damage caused by diabetes. The authorities will ensure that the problem is big enough to make you unemployable at work.

3. Kidney Problems- Up to 40% of people suffering from diabetes have kidney related disorders. Kidney related disorders can severely impacts the quality of life and in addition, the patient has to shell lot of money on regular dialysis

4. Heart Related Issue- High blood sugar block the blood flow through arteries causing the patient to suffer from problems like irregular heart beat, blood pressure issues and chronic heart failure.

5. Amputation- Uncontrollable diabetes can result in amputation of legs and hand. There are large number of people who get their legs amputated because of this disease which severely hamper the ability of work.

The point here is that you are not automatically approved for disability benefits as soon as you get diagnosed with diabetes. The benefits are only for those you are suffering from one or the other diabetic complication and are unable to work in any full time job.

For people without any diabetic complication
The problem with diabetes is that even if you are not suffering from any complication, it can seriously hampers your work efficiency.
Frequent change in blood sugar can make you make you dizzy and fatigued and cause light headedness, confusion, sleepiness etc, which affects your daily work in the office. These type of complex problem can make diabetic out of work and in need of disability.

So even if you are not suffering from any complication, you can apply for disability benefits in the government office. The officials, in this case, will try to figure out your residual functional capacity (RFC), which is basically the kind of work you can do to earn your living.
As per your symptoms and doctor recommendation they will try to figure out your working efficiency and select the suitable work for you as per their classification (sedentary, light, medium and heavy). After figuring out the kid of work you can do, the authority will check if you are qualified for the SSI based benefits.

Keep in mind that it is a tedious and time taking process,  you have to be patient with each and every step involved. You may also feel the need to hire any legal professional to help you with your case, so make sure to account for additional cost.


Disability benefits for diabetic child
Children who are below 6 years old are automatically considered for the disability benefit without any question, however, if the child is above 6, his case will be evaluated by the authorities and the disability os granted if the disease has impacted the daily functioning of the child.
Children comes under SSI based program as they are believed to be not working and have limited financial resources.

How to apply for disability benefits
1. Check with your doctors
Consult your doctors about the disability benefits in advance because the SSA office will check all the documents and medical history from your doctor. Make sure every paperwork is ready before applying for disability benefits.

2. Contact your local SSA office
Contact your local social security administration office and fill up the required application. You can also take help of a professional to go through all the process.
You will be asked to submit various documents to prove your case. Keep in mind that it is a long process and can take 5-6 months to know whether your application is accepted or denied

3. Reappeal in case failure
If your application gets rejected you can re appeal your case to the authorities. The official will reconsider your already submitted document and check if you are eligible for disability.

Diabetes Disability in United Kingdom
UK government has done very good job in recognizing the need of diabetic patients.
Under the equality act 2010, the government have considered diabetes as a disability and has recognized that the patients need assistance for their life.

Benefits of the Law
a. Prevention against discrimination at Work
Around 20% of people suffering from diabetes feel that they are being discriminated at work. If you are suffering from diabetes and feel this way, understand that you have legal rights and you can take suitable actions against the organization.
The law protects the diabetics from any kind of discrimination at work, which means that the employer needs to make necessary adjustments so that you can perform your duty with maximum efficiency. Some of the arrangements includes
–> the right to take the much needed break for blood sugar testing and controlling.
–>ability to get time off for medical checkups
–> breaks for snacks at different interval

Applying for Job
Under the Equality act, you are not liable to disclose your medical condition to the employer and it is unlawful for the employer to inquire about your medical condition before providing you work.
However, some organizations ask about your health condition so that:
-> to make suitable arrangements for you regular needs
->to increase number of people with disability in organization
->to monitor how people with disability apply for job

Disclosing your disability in these organizations will not hurt your chances.
However there are job that require certain fitness skill, which can make people suffering from diabetes unfit for the role. In this case, the employer have the right to reject the candidate for the benefit of the organization and the individual.

One thing i would like to say from my own personal experience that most of these employment right remain on paper only. Get ready to face lot of difficulties in your work environment as you will come across lot of peers who don’t care about our problem and even ready to make poor jokes on you.

Quit the job due to diabetes (real story)

b. Prescription Benefits
Type 1 diabetics are given free medical treatment and prescriptions.
For example, the patients are entitled for free eye checkup once a year, this is for early detection of retinopathy symptoms.
In UK, the rationing of insulin supply is also made free so that the patient do not face additional burden of purchasing expensive insulin. This is such a great step for any government because with rising insulin cost it has become increasingly difficult for patient to afford regular dose of insulin.

Look at the condition of United States.
People are dying with the burden of rising insulin cost and the administration is doing nothing to curb the problem.

c. Living Allowance
People with diabetes can claim their disability allowance from the authority. The amount will be decided by the official on the basis of your physical condition and your ability to work.
Parents of diabetic child can also claim the benefit on their child’s behalf

d. Housing Benefit
Allowance are given to diabetic patients to cover their monthly rent cost.
For this benefit, your income and savings will be considered by the authorities as a qualifying criteria

f. School Exam Special Consideration
In UK, all the schools are asked to make special adjustments for children suffering from any kind of disability including Type 1 diabetes.
The government recognize that child suffering from diabetes needs special considerations specially during exams so that his grade do not get affected. The onus lies on school to make special arrangements in advance during any kind of exam.

Some of the important steps include:
-> Permission to take snacks and drink during exam to avoid hypoglycemia
->Ability to monitor blood sugar and insulin therapy during exam
-> Time breaks in case of Hypoglycemia condition

I hope this kind of arrangements get incorporated throughout the world.
I am a Type 1 diabetic and i recently gave one exam in India. The exam was for post graduate seat and no arrangement for diabetics are there in the exam vicinity.
I was constantly worrying about my blood sugar, i had fear that i may run hypo during the exam. The constant stress of diabetes made me loose my focus and impacted my exam result for the worse.

In my opinion, United Kingdom offers the best benefits for the people living with diabetes. If you compare with the other major economies where diabetes is prevalent (like US, India), you will realize that the amount of benefits offered by UK completely outweigh the other countries by huge margin.
I hope that legislators in UK work harder to improve the efficiency of the health system and try to bring more diabetic people in the mainstream job market.

Is diabetes a disability?” is no longer a question for people living in UK.
Here the people are aware of their rights and are using it for improving their lifestyle.

Diabetes Disability Law in India

It is unfortunate that in a country where the largest number of diabetics reside, the disease is still not considered as a disability.
It is the people of India who are in the dire need of getting diabetes related assistance. Imagine the condition of a poor family whose child has been suffering from Type 1 diabetes and they have to buy expensive insulin pens which cost more than the monthly salary of entire family.

For the recent 5 years there has been some relief as the newly formed government has done free rationing of insulin for Type 1 diabetic patients. These are only temporary steps which can be revoked any time, the need of an hour is to include Type 1 diabetes as a disability in Right to disability act 2016.

However, there has been growing demand by the people to include the disease in the disability act which has led the authorities to take some notable steps:

1. Special provision of food and drink to the diabetic patient during CBSE school examination
2.  Free Rationing of insulin in government hospitals (temporary provision)
3. Free Blood sugar test in the local district hospitals

These steps by the government are praiseworthy but not enough. It is very much required by the authorities to take care of their citizens and it is in their best interest to introduce diabetes in disability law.
There are large pool of children suffering from this disorder, we cannot let their hopes painfully die.

Final Word

On a concluding note i may ask you a question “is diabetes a disability?”
I have come across many people who have an objection of calling diabetes a disability. They feel that they are kind of humiliated with the term and it lowers their self worth.

I am a diabetic and i must confess that i too feel bad when i am labelled as a “disable”
But sometimes we have to accept the reality of life.
I realized that my body cannot survive with external dose of insulin and i have to make adjustments in different parts of life.

I think it would be better for us to realize the limitation of our body and focus on things which we can do to contribute for the well-being of society.


Further Readings
Metformin side effects in Men
Can a diabetic patient eat watermelon?
Diabetes and Memory Loss

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