Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

Advocates Fight for Fair Treatment and Diabetes Research Funding

An attorney and a physician-scientist tell us why they advocate

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Sometimes people are treated unfairly at school, at work, or in other aspects of daily life just because they have diabetes. Each month, hundreds of people contact the American Diabetes Association for help with discrimination matters.

When legal action is required to right a wrong or solve a problem, the Association provides direct assistance and connects people with lawyers who are members of the Advocacy Attorney Network. Network attorneys often provide pro bono representation—donating their time and expertise—and assist in key cases when the Association takes a lead role, for exampleas a party plaintiff. Doctors, nurses, and other professionals in the Association’s Health Care Professional Legal Advocacy Network also provide their expertise in advocacy work on behalf of people living with diabetes.

Network members help to ensure that students get the medical care they need so they can fully participate in school. They’ve fought for workers unfairly denied jobs and helped inmates receive needed medical care during incarceration.

In addition to legal advocacy, many network professionals also get involved with legisltative advocacy. Examples include speaking during congressional hearings to help legislators understand the urgent need to fund diabetes research and programs. Advocates also meet with members of Congress and state legislators to urge support for diabetes legislative priorities.

Here, two network members share their motivation:

Kathy Butler, JD

Kathy Butler, JD, a partner at the law firm Butler & Harris in Houston, focuses her legal skills on fighting discrimination. “I know this country will be a better place if we treat people fairly and not based on prejudice,” she says. “We need the wisdom and contributions of all Americans to make this country great.”

A favorite moment for the 61-year-old attorney includes serving as part of the team that tried the famous Kapche v. FBI case. Jeff Kapche, who has type 1 diabetes, dreamed of becoming an FBI agent. “He was more fit than many FBI agents and a wonderful role model for people with diabetes,” Butler says about the law enforcement professional. He was denied a job with the FBI in 2002. Seven years later, after three days of deliberation, the jury came back in favor of Kapche.

She also represented the first foreign service officers with diabetes in their successful fight to serve the country. “To help break down barriers for people with diabetes, now that is a true honor,” says Butler, who had no personal connection to diabetes until former ADA Board Chair John Griffin Jr., JD, encouraged her to get involved. Now, the people she’s met and worked with through her legal advocacy are like family.

Butler currently serves as chair of the Association’s national Legal Advocacy Subcommittee and as the advocacy chair in Houston. And because discrimination against people with diabetes still occurs far too regularly, there’s plenty for her to do. “Let’s break down more walls and have people with diabetes flying commercial jetliners and serving in our military [two professions that still deny jobs to people with diabetes],” she says. “Let’s help our country reach its true potential!”

Alvin C. Powers, MD

Alvin C. Powers, MD, the Joe C. Davis chair in biologic science and a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is a physician-scientist who makes time for advocacy. As a doctor, Powers, 61, cares for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. As a scientist, he conducts research with a specific interest in the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. And as a son, he wants to support his father, who lives with type 2 diabetes. All of these roles are combined in his advocacy efforts, including his service on the Association’s Board of Directors. “I wanted to try to make an impact [on] how public policy is shaped, how our health care dollars and our research dollars are spent as a society,” Powers says.

“We underfund research on diabetes based on the number of people who have it and also the cost to society in terms of dollars,” he says.

Powers advocates at the national and state levels. He visits Capitol Hill to ask for improved care and increased research funding for diabetes on a national scale. At the state level, improved access to diabetes care is an important focus. In Tennessee and other states with extremely high rates of diabetes, for example, he says activities can be coordinated to reach the people who most need care.

This physician-scientist is clearly delighted by the way that people with diabetes, health care providers, and scientists come together to amplify the focus on diabetes. “They bring unique, synergistic perspectives together, and that really gets people’s attention in terms of public policy and allocation of resources,” Powers says. At Call to Congress, he was impressed by the passion advocates bring to the table. “Whether it’s someone who has diabetes or the parent or siblings, the passion that so many people have for making the lives of individuals with diabetes better—that was very, very moving.” One of his goals is to involve more health care providers and scientists to further empower the ADA’s advocacy program. We’ve made it easy—simply sign up (links below).

Here’s how to join the fight for fair treatment for people with diabetes:


Health Care Professionals

Here's how to sign up to be a Diabetes Advocate and get information on important diabetes issues in Congress and statehouses around the U.S.:

GET HELP: If you feel you are being discriminated against because of diabetes, call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) for help.


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