Are food allergies really a disability? What right do we have to say that they are?
The label “disability”, when rightfully applied, allows for a number of convenient services to make life easier. In schools, children with disabilities may have special accommodations that permit them to attend public school and, hopefully, to excel there. In college, students with disabilities can receive a number of tailored services designed for their needs – to allow them to manage the stress and physical difficulties they’ll face.
But what is a disability, when it comes right down to it?
Dictionary.com tells us a disability is “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.”
People with a life-threatening or very severe food allergy have owned the term “disability” for themselves or their child, especially in the school system. This has raised controversy among those who do not live with allergies in their family. And understandably. Their child can no longer bring a peanut butter sandwich to school because of the needs of one child out of a hundred.
It’s an allergy. It’s a dietary restriction. So what right do we have to call it a disability?
What right do we have to limit the enjoyment of a hundred children for the safety of one?
What right do we have to cause inconvenience or offense?
What right do we have to impose “disability” when there are millions with far more visible, far more serious, far more restrictive “disabilities”?
Because after dealing with a serious chest cold for three weeks and many more weeks before and after with allergies, I was exposed to wheat via a handshake. And I’m now set back again in the healing process because of it.
Because anaphylaxis is potentially deadly and other reactions are almost as serious.
Because one child’s safety matters in a classroom. And so does their inclusion and emotional well-being.
Because one college student should be aided in every possible way to curb the dangerous effects of a serious condition.
Because many people have already benefited – and even been protected – by the training given to allergen detection service dogs.
We have every right . . .
. . . to say “disability.”
But . . .
. . . we don’t have a reason . . .
. . . to live like it is.
Food allergies are always going to limit us. Food allergies are always going to cause us to have to take extraordinary precautions and preventative measures. Food allergies are always going to scare us, cause anxiety – and with good reason.
But in finding a way to manage your condition or your child’s, remember that thriving is just as important. Maybe you’ll learn to thrive with two EpiPens in your backpack, which is marked “medical alert” . . . maybe you’ll learn to thrive with a service dog at your side . . . maybe you’ll learn to thrive while constantly educating people about anaphylaxis . . . but you will thrive.
I felt it was important to outline this here today. Using the label “disability” is simply a safety margin. It’s not us. It’s not how we want to live. We just want to make sure we keep breathing – or that our child keeps breathing. Is it a disability? Maybe. Will the world see it that way? I hope so. Will we see it that way? No. No, we will not.
There’s a fine line of difference between using the legal definition of disability and living it.
I hope I’ve made some sense here. Let me hear your thoughts on this in the comments, or feel free to get in touch! I would also encourage you to reblog this post if you can! Let’s spread this message.