The New York Times is at it again, with yet another in-depth and provocative feature story on what it means to live with diabetes. This one focuses on discrimination on the job: “Diabetics Confront a Tangle of Workplace Laws.”
Besides the disturbing stories of people with diabetes who’ve lost jobs at everyplace from mortgage firms to UPS to a Texas baked bean plant, what really struck me was this statement:
“Diabetics can find themselves teetering on a balance beam, needing to prove they are disabled enough to fit under the law but not so impaired that they can’t do a job.”
I do not think of myself or anyone with diabetes as disabled, and it would pain me greatly to have to resort to conjuring up disability laws or special benefits just to succeed alongside non-diabetic colleagues in the workplace. But from this story, I can see that sometimes PWDs have no choice.
Consider the woman with diabetic neuropathy whose employer wouldn’t let her cut through a stockroom to reach her department (in order to reduce her walk), or the man fired from a Wisconsin candy company after asking where he could dispose of his insulin needles (!)
What’s the matter with these employers? How do they figure “substantial risk” to their business, and/or to life and limb over stuff like this?
Yes, a very small percentage of us run the risk of serious hypoglycemia. But this is: 1) dangerous to no one but the PWD themselves in most jobs (think mortgage company), and 2) extremely rare in the sweeping population of people with diabetes. Why make so many people suffer out of pure ignorance?
“But the companies say they are struggling, too, with confusion about whether diabetes is a legitimate disability and with concern about whether it is overly expensive, hazardous and disruptive to accommodate the illness,” the NY Times reports.
Hmm, definitely sounds like a case of the “I-word,” as in: “If I can get rid of ignorance, I can get rid of a lot of discrimination,” says Shereen Arent, the director of legal advocacy for the American Diabetes Association.
On the whole, however, I’d have to agree with Kelly Close that the sorriest part of this story is the quote from Fran Carpentier, senior editor at Parade magazine and a Type 1 diabetic herself. She states: “Knowing what it’s like to live with the disease hour by hour, day by day, I wonder if I owned my own company if I would hire someone with diabetes… I’m being bluntly honest. And it kills me to say this.”
I second Kelly’s assertion that “with quotes like that out there, I sure hope I’ll never be applying for another job.” Three cheers for the golden days of independent consulting!