In January of 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled in a case in Massachusetts that effectively identified celiac disease and gluten intolerance as legal disabilities.
The story is fairly simple – students at Lesley University, in Cambridge, objected to the available meal plan. Those who had gluten-related health concerns were being offered a regular diet of gluten-containing foods, so they had to either go hungry or find another option. Because they had purchased a meal plan with their tuition, however, they insisted that the school find a better solution.
In the legal case, the school agreed to recognize the gluten issues as disabilities and to accommodate this by providing gluten-free meals, dealing with any cross-contamination problems, and even training the kitchen staff about food allergies.
This is unprecedented and made me wonder what it means for food service as well as the millions of people diagnosed with gluten intolerance and celiac.
Just consider that the identification of celiac disease as a disability means that people with the condition can now cite the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says that discrimination in places of public accommodation is completely prohibited. This would mean that schools, universities, restaurants, and anywhere food is made available to the public will have to begin making options available for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
It also means that an entirely new precedent has been established in the ways that food distributors have to prepare and store food too. For example, it may no longer be acceptable for restaurants to put warnings such as “may be prepared on equipment in which wheat was also used” in order to avoid problems with those who have allergies or autoimmune disorders.
New Public Ideas and Issues Concerning Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance
Because celiac disease and gluten intolerance have been formally recognized as disabilities, however, it has opened up a number of different dialogues. For example, there have been many commentators and experts asking if celiac disease really does “limit activity” as the ADA standards require. This has allowed those with celiac and related conditions to finally have a chance to emphasize how truly disabling even the ingestion of small amounts of gluten can be.
The intestinal distress, bloating, and pain that results for many who accidentally consume what results to a toxin in their bodies is now information entering the public forum. This bodes well for those who are forced to eat a gluten-free diet because it means that the public may become a bit more compassionate and encouraging towards those with the gluten-related problems.
Unfortunately, there are also many going to the opposite extreme and insisting that a condition such as celiac disease is too unknown to be considered a disability. This group of commentators is emphasizing that it is the environment that is the problem for people with gluten intolerance and not the actual body.
Clearly, there is a lot to be discussed about the severity of celiac and gluten intolerance, but this latest ruling is a step in the right direction for keeping people with celiac and gluten intolerance as healthy and safe as possible.