College and Diabetes: Be Your Own Best Advocate
You have rights…
… in admissions. Colleges are prohibited from inquiring about disabilities when they make admissions decisions. The PSAT, ACT, SAT, and AP no longer flag score reports of students who use modifications when taking the tests. Your high school should not disclose your diabetes to colleges without your consent. Unless you choose to include information about your diabetes on your application—say, as part of your admissions essay—your diabetes should play no part in the admissions decision. (Click here for more information about standardized testing and diabetes.)
… at college. Two federal laws protect you against discrimination: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws apply to nearly all public and private colleges, including most religious schools, and also require colleges to provide reasonable modifications to students with disabilities, including diabetes. However, legal requirements are different in college than in high school. For example, your college may permit you to reschedule an exam if your blood glucose levels are out of target range, but may not be obligated to train staff in diabetes care. Other modifications you might ask for include being allowed to check your blood glucose in lecture halls, having breaks between separate sections of long exams to check glucose, and being excused for diabetes-related absences. Many colleges require that you provide a recent letter from your doctor to justify requests for modifications.
You have responsibilities…
… to take the initiative. In high school, your parents probably worked with your school to develop and implement a written school diabetes care plan (often called a 504 plan). It is now your responsibility to let your college know what you need. Make an appointment with the school's office of disability services. Even if you do not need any modifications right away, putting your college on notice about your diabetes is critical in case any problems do arise. You may also need to work with other administration personnel along the way: a professor or academic dean for testing modifications; an athletic director for physical education or athletic issues; and a coordinator of student employment if you need accommodations in your work-study job.
… to fight for your rights. If you are denied the modifications you need, or otherwise discriminated against, you may decide to file a complaint. If your college receives federal funding (and almost all do), it must implement an antidiscrimination grievance policy. Sometimes the policy may be run through the office of disability services, while at other times it will be integrated into a college-wide process. You can also file a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights or file a lawsuit directly in federal court.
Crystal Jackson, is the American Diabetes Association associate director of Legal Advocacy, and Katharine Gordon, is the ADA Novo Nordisk Legal Advocacy fellow