Food Allergies May Constitute a Disability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

October 12, 2013

In an historic judgement on December 20, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an agreement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., to ensure that students with celiac disease and other food allergies can fully and equally enjoy the university’s meal plan and food services in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).       

The judgement found that food allergies may constitute a disability under the ADA.   Individuals with food allergies may have an autoimmune response to certain foods, the symptoms of which may include difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma and anaphylaxis.   For example, celiac disease, which is triggered by consumption of the protein gluten (found in foods such as wheat, barley and rye), can cause permanent damage to the surface of the small intestines and an inability to absorb certain nutrients, leading to vitamin deficiencies that deny vital nourishment to the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs.  

The judgement found that food allergies may constitute a disability under the ADA.

It is unclear yet how this ruling will impact other types of programs, including camps.  However, the Department of Justice has released its first guidance document on this issue.  While helpful, it still is unclear what the future ramifications are for programs other than university food service.  They have provided a toll-free help line: 800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY) for anyone to call to discuss their own program and ADA implications.  ACA will also continue to search for resources and applicability for the camp environment.

ADA Information Line
800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY)
M-W, F 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Th 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern)
to speak with an ADA Specialist. All calls are confidential.