The Rights of People with Diabetes in Emergency Shelters

Natural disasters can leave a devastating impact on those in the affected areas.  People may be displaced from their homes and from their loved ones for extended periods of time.  Cherished and valuable personal belongings may be destroyed or damaged.  In such circumstances, people may find themselves temporarily living in emergency shelters.  For people with diabetes, this can be especially daunting.  In addition to difficulties that might accompany securing necessary medications and supplies, people with diabetes may find themselves being turned away from shelters or refused necessary accommodations.  This fact sheet provides information to people with diabetes about some of their key rights in emergency shelters.

1. Am I protected from being discriminated against because of my diabetes?

YES.  Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability.  People with diabetes are protected against discrimination because diabetes meets the definition of a disability under federal law.  Diabetes qualifies as a disability because it is a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.  

2. Can I be turned away from an emergency shelter because of my diabetes?

NO.  Most emergency shelters are considered places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Under Title III of the ADA, people with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services of a place of public accommodation. In practice, this means that a place of public accommodation, such as an emergency shelter, must not screen out or exclude you because of your diabetes. 

In addition, the law requires that people with disabilities be housed in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the person. So, people with diabetes generally should not be quarantined or segregated. 

3. Do emergency shelters have to provide accommodations to people with diabetes?

YES.  Title III of the ADA also requires that places of public accommodation modify their policies, practices and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the services provided.  

4. What are some examples of accommodations that an emergency shelter should provide to a person with diabetes? 

Modification to “no sharps” policies so that people with diabetes can have access to their diabetes supplies, including insulin syringes and pens.

Modification to “no animals” policies so that diabetes dogs are allowed access (see more on this in #5 below).

Modification to policies that may restrict the types or amounts of snacks or drinks allowed in.

Allow unrestricted access to the bathroom. 

Allow for the safe and responsible administration of insulin and blood glucose testing.

Provide refrigeration, as needed, for appropriate storage of medication.

Remove structural barriers or provide alternative measures, as needed, for people with diabetes who suffer from neuropathy, amputations, etc.

Provide appropriate aids for people whose vision is impaired due to retinopathy.

Places of public accommodation are not required to provide diabetes supplies, food or drinks.

5. Can an emergency shelter deny access to my diabetes dog? 

NO.  An emergency shelter must modify its “no animals” policy for diabetes dogs.  Generally, the ADA requires places of public accommodation to permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities.  

A place of public accommodation may only ask two questions to determine whether a dog is a “service animal” under the law:  (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the animal been trained to perform?  Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.  

Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. The ADA does require that service animals must be housebroken and kept under control.   

6. Who can I contact if I believe I am being discriminated against?

If you believe that an emergency shelter has discriminated against you, you may call the American Diabetes Association for information and guidance about your rights.  You may reach us by calling 1-800 DIABETES (800-342-2383) or by emailing AskADA@diabetes.org.  Our call center will conduct an intake of your issue, which will then be reviewed by our Legal Advocacy Attorneys for possible assistance. 

Our call center may also be able to provide information to you about locations of shelters and donated diabetes medications and supplies.

Resources

American Diabetes Association Fact Sheet: Diabetes, Discrimination, and Public Places and Government Programs: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/discrimination/public-accommodations/fact-sheet-diabetes-public-gvrnprograms.html

American Diabetes Association Statement on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness:  http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/diacare/30/9/2395.full.pdf 

FEMA Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services in General Population Shelters, November 2010:  https://www.fema.gov/pdf/about/odic/fnss_guidance.pdf 

Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual Covering Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities:  https://www.ada.gov/taman3.html 

U.S. Department of Justice, ADA Requirements: Service Animals: https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm 

Important Note: This fact sheet describing the legal rights of individuals with diabetes is for your general information and review only, and is not to be construed as a substitute for the advice of legal counsel.