Is my diabetes a disease, disability or disruption?

A student didn’t consider diabetes a disability until applying for DRS accommodations.


As a Type 1 diabetic, I never considered myself disabled. 

My pancreas gave up on me three months after I turned 16, impairing my body’s ability to produce insulin and requiring me to inject myself with insulin to monitor my glucose levels. 

From that moment to today, I do not identify as a person with a disability. But that’s not to say my diabetes hasn’t presented me with challenges. I now manually monitor my glucose levels so they do not get too high or low. 

This means I may need to take insulin injections in class if my glucose levels are too high, or crack open a bottle of juice or bust open a bag of crackers if they are too low. Being diabetic on Main Campus is not problematic because most professors don’t have an issue with people eating and drinking in class. I never considered myself to be disabled, so I did not register with Disability Resource and Services.

This only became an issue when I studied abroad at Temple University Japan. There are important cultural differences that hindered to my diabetes management. 

In Japan, it is considered rude to both eat in class and leave class, even if to use the bathroom, because it is disruptive. I discovered this when someone was finishing the remnants of their lunch as class started and the professor asked the student to put their food away until after class.

In preparation for studying abroad, I started using a continuous glucose monitoring system to check my glucose levels without finger pricks. It alerted me when my levels were dropping or rising too fast. These alerts sound similar to a cell phone.

During a Japanese language exam on my first day of classes, one of these alerts sounded. It was the only time I was afraid of being asked to leave class for being disruptive since I’ve never been kicked out of class in my entire life. 

I had just finished eating lunch before this class so my glucose levels were going to rise. The exam was important. It determined if I got to stay in Japanese Elements II. But as my levels rose, my sensor alerts kept sounding to tell me that my levels were too high. The CGM was new to me, so I didn’t know how to adjust the volume of the alerts or how to turn them off. Every time it went off, my professor’s head jerked up from her book to survey the room, as she told us to turn off our phones. It was extremely embarrassing because I had no idea how to fix it. 

After that class, I registered with DRS to ensure my professors could not kick me out of class, frequently stop class if my alerts sounded or single me out for eating in class. 

Whenever I eat, I am supposed to take insulin to cover the carbohydrates that I consumed. In the event that I don’t finish a meal that I gave myself insulin for, I risk an accidental overdose which could result in the loss of consciousness, seizure, coma or death. Wouldn’t you say that any of those occurring in the middle of a class would be more disruptive than the crunch of crackers or fizziness of a soda?

At the end of the day, diabetes management is not an exact science. I could have a regimen that works for me on a consistent basis, but then suddenly it no longer does. Things like stress, anxiety and fatigue can also impact my glucose levels even if my management is consistent. Any changes in diet or frequency of exercise will also impact the efficacy of my regiment. 

Temple offers resources to people with diabetes, including DRS and the College Diabetes Network, which is an organization that connects people with Type 1 diabetes, provides a supportive community, disseminates helpful information on diabetes management and prepares students with diabetes for the transition to college and to life after college. 

The chapter on campus gathers people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and helpful allies who do not have the condition. The friends I made through CDN during my freshman year are still my friends today. They also struggled to receive proper accommodations from professors. 

Through both of these resources, I’ve grown more comfortable being a diabetic in college and do not have to worry about my chronic illness getting in the way of getting my degree.

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