I don’t want you to miss this post, even though I hesitated to write it because of my own views on the subject. This is an important discussion, so I want to hear your thoughts in the comments.
You’re a teen attending a family reunion at Thanksgiving. You’re told the fish is gluten-free – completely safe for your severe allergy. You eat it, almost without concern.
And you have a delayed anaphylactic reaction the next day, because the equipment used for the fish was contaminated.
IS YOUR FOOD ALLERGY A DISABILITY?
I know there are folks who will read this article and say “yes” immediately to that question – especially parents of young, allergic children. But then I put myself in the shoes of a teen recently diagnosed with multiple food allergies. She/he is strictly confined to an avoidance diet and then discovers an allergy to peanuts.
Not many teens in that situation – barred from social events they used to attend, isolated, frustrated – would admit that food allergies are a “disability”.
So, is it based on one’s own opinion of their allergy? Not exactly.
According to the ADA,
Some individuals with food allergies have a disability as defined by the ADA – particularly those with more significant or severe responses to certain foods. This would include individuals with celiac disease and others who have autoimmune responses to certain foods, the symptoms of which may include difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma, or anaphylactic shock.ada.gov
But I’m not here to talk about how the law views food allergies.
I’m here to talk about how we should view them.
Classifying your food allergy as a disability is quite a leap to make as an individual – or at least, it can be. But I would argue that the label – while important in the sense of staying safer and protecting yourself or your child – shouldn’t change how you view your situation.
DO I CONSIDER MY SEVERE, INGESTED-ANAPHYLACTIC WHEAT ALLERGY A DISABILITY?
One episode of anaphylaxis could kill me. I know that. Therefore, I know I have an invisible disability – according to the ADA, if nothing else. That fact would allow me to have an allergen detection service dog to help keep me safe. That fact would allow for a 504 plan if I were in public school.
But I do not see my allergy as a disability. Remember my post about identity? I see my allergy as something that walks beside me – not something I have to carry on my shoulders.
Does that mean I don’t have anxiety? No. Does it mean that I don’t still cringe when explaining my allergy to people who don’t get it? Nope. Allergy-related anxiety is real and educating others about anaphylaxis is often a tense and awkward moment.
SO . . . IS IT A DISABILITY OR NOT?
I believe in the legal sense, and in the sense of raising awareness/educating the public, it is wise to call food allergies an invisible disability.
However, you need to make sure you’re looking above that in the day-to-day. Raising the bar. Managing risk rather than avoiding it. And I would encourage you to start looking at your allergy differently.
If you’re a food allergy mom – God bless you! – then help your child find confidence.
If you’ve lived with allergies for years, start embracing a life without anxiety.
If you were recently diagnosed, learn how to balance confidence and caution.
And most important to me, if you’re a teen living with food allergies, learn to embrace a different kind of freedom. We live on the knife’s edge of risk and limitation . . . but we can thrive. You haven’t lost your freedom. You’ve gained it – a different kind of freedom.
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Talk to me, people. How do you view your allergy? What do you struggle with the most in learning to thrive? How can your story encourage others? ❤️❤️❤️