Are Food Allergies a Disability?


Pose the question, “Are food allergies a disability?” to kids with food allergies, or their parents, and you might get a variety of answers.

Some might say yes, food allergies can prevent kids from experiencing the same things as their peers. Others might say no, food allergies aren’t a disability because kids with food allergies can do the same things as any other kids, just with a little extra planning and foresight.

These opinions are usually based on a personal definition of what constitutes a “disability.” But what does the law say?

Americans with Disabilities Act

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is any physical or mental condition that interferes with a major life function. Such functions include basic necessities of life, like breathing or eating, as well as other functions we often take for granted, like learning or concentrating. The ADA makes it possible for people with disabilities to access facilities and services with a few modifications. A very common example is a wheelchair ramp that allows people with limited mobility to gain entrance to a building.

Are Food Allergies a Disability According to the Law?

Food allergies can indeed be considered a disability under the ADA. In 2008, the original 1990 ADA was amended to make the verbiage even more inclusive. Even if the symptoms that interfere with a major life function are not present at all times, a condition can be interpreted as a disability under the ADA. When triggered, allergic reactions can prevent breathing, impair concentration and interfere with learning, for example.

The ADA gives parents leverage to request modifications at school to avoid contact with an allergen. The modifications for your child can be uniquely outlined in an IEP or 504 Plan. Having a safe environment in which to access the same learning services as his or her peers is your child’s right.

The ADA also makes it unlawful for your child to be refused a service due to fear of liability, for your child to be prevented from attending a field trip for fear of an incident, etc. Incidents of harassment or discrimination should be reported.

Share Your Experience

Have you been able to fall back on the ADA to protect your child’s rights? Has your child ever felt left out because of his or her allergy? Share your experiences with other parents in the comments below. It’s good to be prepared for different scenarios!