Should food allergies be considered a disability? Perhaps they should, at least according to a settlement recently reached between a college in Massachusetts and the Justice Department. The college in question, Lesley University, is now required to make accommodations for students who suffer from severe food allergies. The specific allergy in question is a wheat allergy called celiac disease, but this settlement may make a precedent for other food allergies.
Supporters of the settlement say that it will grant important rights to college students who, in many cases, are required to participate in an on campus meal plan. Many institutions require students to purchase a cafeteria meal plan while living in on campus housing. For most students, this is an economical and convenient choice. However, those students who suffer from various food allergies may find that their food choices in the cafeteria are severely limited.
The result is sometimes weight loss and nutritional imbalance. Some students with food allergies and no alternatives are forced to pay for meal plans they never use while finding other ways to prepare appropriate food for themselves. On occasion, students have even taken the extreme step of moving off campus in order to enjoy more freedom to prepare their own food.
Those in opposition to the settlement suggest that federal government involvement in the food served by college cafeterias is absurd. They feel that colleges should be encouraged to work with students on a case by case basis, allowing some students to opt out of mandatory meal plans and providing appropriate dietary choices for others.
The settlement between the federal government and Lesley University provides only that the school must make reasonable modifications for students who consider themselves disabled as a result of their food allergy. However, many people who have food allergies are not yet accustomed to the idea that their disorder actually is a disability.
The finding that food allergies may qualify as disabilities is a surprising one that may provide future government protection not just for on campus college students, but also for students in elementary, middle and high schools.