Universities Must Accommodate for Food Allergies

cafeteriaParents of teens who have celiac disease, and who will be heading to college this year, may have concerns about what will be served in the school cafeteria. You may not be aware of it, but the Department of Justice announced in December that universities must make meal plans that are inclusive of students will food allergies.

Last year, I wrote a blog about something that will make parents of young adults with celiac disease, or a gluten allergy, rest a little easier. Some universities were starting to make accommodations for students who had celiac disease, or a gluten allergy or intolerance. At the time, this was unheard of, and not all universities were doing it.

In December of 2012, the Department of Justice announced an agreement it made with Lesley University. The university agreed to ensure that students with celiac disease and other food allergies can fully and equally enjoy the university’s meal plan and food services in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA).

Food allergies, in many cases, are considered to be a disability under the ADA. The Department of Justice notes:

Individuals with food allergies may have an autoimmune response to certain foods, the symptoms of which may include difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma, and anaphylaxis.

It also points out that celiac disease is triggered by the consumption of gluten, which is in foods that contain wheat, barley, and rye. People who have celiac disease, and eat something that has gluten in it, can cause permanent damage to the surfaces of their small intestines. It can also cause them to be unable to absorb nutrients, and to experience a wide range of unfortunate side effects.

The announcement from the DOJ specifically involves Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because some students of the university claimed that the school’s food service and meal plans were inadequate for their needs (due to their food allergies). This is significant. It is the first food allergy related settlement under the ADA in higher education.

Marilyn Geller is the chief operation office of the Celiac Disease Foundation. She said:

The Lesley settlement is terrific. It puts all universities on notice that they’re going to have to make these accommodations for students with celiac, gluten sensitivity, and other food allergies.

Ultimately, this means that universities are going to have to accommodate for students who have food allergies. There will have to be gluten-free options for students who need them. There must also be accommodations for other types of food allergies.

Image by Mike Coughlan on Flickr