Many American universities, unlike those in the UK, require students living on campus to ‘participate in a meal plan’. This, in the case of Lesley University in Massachusetts, has brought them into conflict with the 2009 amendments to US disability law that now class ‘episodic impairments that substantially limit activity’ as disabilities. Coeliac students claimed that by preventing them eating (by not providing them with food that they can safely eat) the university was preventing them from accessing their educational program.
Students at Lesley University had complained that there were not enough gluten-free foods on the menu for them to eat a reasonable diet – students at other universities had claimed that they have lost weight because there were not enough gluten-free options on the menu. Finally, after three years of discussions with the Justice Department, the university has agreed both to serve gluten-free foods and to ‘make other accommodations for students who have coeliac disease’.
While this is, obviously, very good news for coeliac student in the US, it could have wider implications for those suffering from food allergies, also recognised and diagnosable food based illnesses. While it is unlikely that the disability amendments could be stretched to accommodate people walking into a restaurant or café off the street, they could well be called in support of a food allergic or coeliac eating in any kind of ‘works’ canteen or in any establishment where the ‘in house’ provision of food is seen as necessary or as an accepted ‘perk’ of the job.
Certainly a very positive step in the right direction as far as food allergics are concerned.
(For a more detailed report on this case see MSN News – January 2013)