Food Allergies and the ADA


Jefferson Adams over at has highlighted a commentary claiming that food allergies and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) should not mix:

The article in question was written by Hans von Spakovsky, a senior fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. He will be sent a copy of this post as an illustration of why the ADA can be applicable to this medical condition.

For over a decade now I’ve been engaged in advocacy for those with celiac disease and food allergies including a three-year stint on the board of trustees of a related nonprofit. I have experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace and in my personal life from people who trivialize food allergies. I’ve often found that those most critical of allowing accommodations for food allergic people are usually the most ignorant of these conditions and the associated health issues.

It took decades of suffering to be diagnosed with celiac disease. It took several more years before the rest of my food allergies were found. The damage this has done to my immune system has led to other issues that I have to manage daily. Working outside the home with such conditions is very challenging and limits what I can do for a living, but it’s something I’ve had to do even though it’s compounded my health problems.

Not only can I not eat a number of foods, which prevents me from eating at restaurants and means my entire schedule has to be planned around access to special foods, I have a contact allergy to a couple as well. This means that I have to maintain a dedicated cooking facility that is not cross-contaminated by family members. Thankfully I’m blessed with people who know the drill.

Travel is difficult; if I don’t have a dedicated kitchen and equipment and specific allergen-free foods available nearby, then I have to cook ahead of time and bring a cooler, fridge, and/or microwave. A lot of my kind of food doesn’t taste so hot reheated and my bread is not palatable without being toasted (in a dedicated toaster). I have to be careful of what I touch before I eat my food and how I wash my dishes.

There is no stopping for a bite at a fast food place. There is no going to the corner store for milk and a loaf of bread. There is no ready-made can of soup, frozen meal, or getting a sandwich at a deli. I don’t eat food that other people prepare except for a select few, and I have to get my groceries from several different stores that might be spread over a large area. My groceries can cost a great deal more than “normal” groceries although the benefit is eating a lot of healthy and organic food.

Trying to get people in the workplace to be understanding about this has been madness at times. All the myths about food allergies can come to life in the workplace: “a little won’t hurt you,” “you’ll offend so-and-so if you don’t try that,” “it can’t be that bad.” People can think of food allergies as an “achoo” condition rather than as the journey through digestive and autoimmune hell that a reaction can actually be. I’ve blogged about these issues a number of times and addressed a handful of these myths in Death by Dairy at

Celiac and food disease can very well be life-limiting conditions and in many cases should be treated as a disability under the ADA. Eating even a small amount of certain foods can become a life-threatening issue for some of us. It makes many of us very, very sick, which can require time off, medical treatment, and other costly measures. The number of people with food allergies  has dramatically increased in recent years and will continue to do so.

As a conservative myself, I understand von Spakovsky’s concerns about how the Obama administration is handling this particular issue. About the Civil Rights Division he says, “It’s quite a comedown for a department that, 45 years ago, fought serious battles to stop real discrimination, bigotry and violence.” I can assure him that I have experienced real discrimination, bigotry, and violence as a survivor of both domestic violence and workplace bullying related to my condition.

Whether or not we agree on how to best create accommodations for people with food allergies– and I’d like to see some legal alternatives suggested– I do believe that these should be treated as a disability under the ADA in many cases. This is absolutely a life-limiting condition for me and thousands– possibly millions– of others like me. Our lives revolve around the availability of particular uncontaminated foods and our ability to prepare them in a facilities that aren’t cross-contaminated. While it is not beyond God’s power to heal every one of these medical issues and complications in an instant, this is my current situation.

For more information on this topic, check out the right sidebar and see some of my other posts at:


His grace and goodness toward us is so immeasurably great, that without great assaults and trials it cannot be understood. –Martin Luther


©2013 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/


One thought on “Food Allergies and the ADA

  1. I absolutely understand about how debilitating this is! It took over 20 years for me to be properly diagnosed. Up until then I was told my symptoms were a nervous condition, that it was all in my head, that I needed counseling and Prozac!

    What a relief when I found that the culprit could be avoided and that surgery and medications were not necessary to feel better. I was feeling better in only about three months! My memory was back, my constant “intestinal flu” went away! But…

    The reactions from well meaning friends and family were a trial! My favorite comeback to “Oh surely a little bit can’t hurt!” was:

    “Would you willingly eat a ‘little bit’ of RAT POISON?”

    Other nefarious comments were: It’s white bread not wheat bread. Can’t you just scrape it off? and…

    It’s not a disease it’s just a fad diet.



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