Diabetes Forecast

Fighting Discrimination

Fifteen years of legal victories for people with diabetes


In the years before the American Diabetes Association established its Legal Advocacy program, people with diabetes couldn't be police officers, firefighters, or commercial drivers. Not only were they shut out of entire career fields, but people who developed diabetes were sometimes denied promotions or even fired from their existing jobs. Kids with diabetes were shut out of day care centers and public schools. Parents would have to quit their jobs to be near the school, or go to work wondering if anyone would help their child in an emergency. And getting arrested by the police could mean being denied treatment altogether.

ADA's Legal Advocacy program is the only program of its kind that fights for the rights of people with diabetes. It began with Michael Greene and his work on ADA's first organized legal effort in 1994. Prior to the program's inception, ADA also participated in the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to ensure that the legislation would include protections for people with diabetes. Today, the Legal Advocacy program continues to prevent discrimination, negotiate solutions for people with diabetes, litigate in courts around the country, and fight for legislation to protect the rights of people with diabetes. Here's a look at some of the program's achievements thus far:


  • Michael Greene, former chair of the ADA Board of Directors, begins ADA's organized advocacy efforts with Wood v. Omaha School District. Audry Wood was one of two school van drivers who was demoted by the school district due to the U.S. Department of Transportation's regulations that prohibited people who use insulin from obtaining commercial driving licenses. Wood claimed discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but lost the case.


  • The Federal Aviation Administration ends the blanket ban that prevented anyone who uses insulin from obtaining a private pilots' license: a result of ADA advocacy efforts. FAA replaced the ban with a system that assessed each pilot with diabetes based on his or her individual abilities.


  • ADA reaches settlements in lawsuits against two of the largest nationwide day care providers in Stuthard v. KinderCare and Davis v. LaPetite Academy. The settlements require the facilities to assist with blood glucose monitoring and other diabetes care tasks, rather than turning these children away or denying them medical care.


  • In the first school settlement to result from ADA's efforts, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights requires that Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia provide comprehensive diabetes care to students.
  • The state of Virginia passes school diabetes legislation as a result of ADA's work, the first state to do so. It requires schools to have a school nurse or trained staff available to administer insulin and glucagon and to perform blood glucose testing, and requires that schools train non-medical school personnel to perform diabetes care tasks.


  • ADA's Legal Advocacy Attorney Network is established, creating a network of lawyers across the nation willing to assist with diabetes discrimination cases. Since then, thousands of people have contacted ADA each year to request assistance with diabetes discrimination issues.


  • Efforts to involve health care professionals with legal advocacy efforts are expanded with the creation of the ADA Health Care Professionals Legal Advocacy Network.


  • ADA reaches settlement in Rosen v. City of Philadelphia, which requires the city to ensure that people with diabetes who are in police custody receive necessary diabetes care and leads to the development of nationwide training materials for law enforcement officers.
  • "Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel" is published by the National Diabetes Education Program in coordination with ADA. "Diabetes Care Tasks at School: What School Personnel Need to Know" is created by ADA as a tool for school personnel to provide care for students with diabetes.


  • ADA launches its Safe at School campaign to further its anti-discrimination efforts in schools. The goal of the campaign is to ensure that every student with diabetes is medically safe at school and has the same educational opportunities as other students. As part of the campaign, ADA organizes a coalition of all major diabetes organizations supporting the Safe at School principles. For more information, visit diabetes.org/safeatschool.


ADA reaches settlement with the state of California in K.C. v. O'Connell, a class action lawsuit against the California Department of Education. The settlement affirms the rights of students with diabetes to receive the care they need in school and sets out a national model for schools across the country.


  • After a 7-year court battle, a jury finds in favor of Gary Branham, an IRS agent with diabetes who was denied a promotion to Special Agent because of his diabetes. ADA volunteer John Griffin represented Bran­ham and ADA acted as amicus curiae (providing expert information to the court) in this case, Branham v. Snow, which establishes a standard for the most difficult diabetes discrimination cases.
  • The blanket ban on commercial driving that had been put in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation is replaced with a system that assesses each person based on his or her individual case. The lifting of the ban follows two federal laws that were enacted as a result of years of ADA efforts.
  • ADA begins nationwide training for lawyers, health care professionals, and school advocates, and publishes "Legal Rights of Students with Diabetes," a treatise on school discrimination issues.


  • 18 states have passed school diabetes care legislation sponsored by the ADA.
  • More than 600 exemptions have been granted allowing people who use insulin to drive commercial vehicles.
  • Each month, an average of 50 people facing discrimination receive direct assistance from ADA legal advocates, volunteer attorneys, and advanced school advocates.


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