A few weeks ago we published a post on gluten-free jail time.

I mentioned that celiac disease is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and one commenter questioned my sources (and rightly so). Some more in-depth research ensued, and what I found out surprised me.

Accordingly, a brief primer on the ADA. All information below comes directly from www.ada.gov, and I’ve cited more specifically where possible:

What is the ADA?

“The Americans with Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.”

In other words, the ADA protects the people’s right to exist in the public sphere.

She fights for your rights...to chow down.

She fights for your rights...to chow down.

What qualifies as a disability?

“An individual is considered to have a “disability” if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Persons discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with an individual with a disability also are protected.”

Food allergies and intolerances aren’t expressly mentioned, but precedent has been set that includes them in the list of disabilities covered. After all, eating is a major life activity.

OK, but what are the implications for me as a person with celiac disease?

  • You have the right to bring medically necessary food to places where you will be unable to eat what’s available. A New Hampshire case that was resolved via mediation revolved around a diner with food allergies who wished to bring her own food on a dinner train tour. The company updated its existing policy to include alternative dietary selections and advertised the changes.
  • Can’t find gluten-free goods in your neighborhood stores? You may be able to require the special order of gluten-free supplies (note: this does not mean the store is required to stock the food). A ruling about Accessible Goods dictated that a store must special-order if
    • It makes special orders for unstocked goods in its regular course of business, and
    • The accessible or special goods requested can be obtained from one of its regular suppliers.
  • If you are in a homeless shelter, you have the right to request suitable food if it’s denial would cause you serious harm, “for example shelters would need to modify rules concerning food storage or kitchen access for an individual who has special dietary needs due to a disability.”
  • Emergency shelters, too, have a mandate to “provide food options that allow people with dietary restrictions to eat.”

What does it all boil down to?

If you are somewhere – jail, a hospital, a cruise, a campus dorm – for long enough to require food, you should be able to find or provide something suitably gluten-free. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to fight for it, though.

If you’ve had to fight the gluten-free fight, how did it go?