Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not function properly, making the body unable to process sugars. Many people manage it with medication, insulin injections, and diet. However, if a person with type 1 diabetes is unable to work, they may qualify for disability benefits.

Type 1 diabetes is less prevalent in the general population than type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that 5–10% of people with diabetes have type 1.

Type 1 diabetes is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects those that have the condition from being subject to discrimination at work or when seeking employment.

This article examines the complications of diabetes along with the definition of an unseen disability. It also explores the disability benefits to which people with type 1 diabetes may be entitled and explains how to apply and what to do following a rejected application.

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Diabetes is a complex disease that can affect different areas of the body. An individual may become disabled due to complications resulting from the inability to maintain blood sugar levels or process glucose properly.

Too much glucose circulating through the bloodstream can lead to various problems, including:

  • eye disease, such as swelling, damaged blood vessels, and changes in fluid levels
  • foot problems, including nerve damage and reduced blood flow
  • gum disease, due to high amounts of blood sugar in the saliva
  • heart disease or stroke, resulting from damage to the blood vessels and nerves of the heart
  • kidney disease, resulting from damage to the blood vessels of the kidneys
  • high blood pressure, which can lead to kidney damage
  • nerve problems, known as diabetic neuropathy
  • bladder or sexual problems, due to reduced blood flow in the bladder and to the genitals
  • skin conditions or infections, often resulting from reduced circulation

These complications can progress to the point that they impair a person’s ability to work or make accommodations to working conditions necessary. In such cases, the ADA protects the rights of an individual with type 1 diabetes.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the organization that determines what qualifies as a disability.

A condition must appear in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments to count as a disability. In this manual, the SSA describes the conditions that it considers severe enough to prevent an adult from maintaining gainful employment.

In the section on endocrine disorders, the organization notes that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes “are chronic disorders that can have serious disabling complications that meet the duration requirement.”

Unseen disabilities are impairments that are not easily identifiable to anyone else.

People with some disabilities require the use of assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, glasses, or hearing aids.

However, there may not be any visible evidence of type 1 diabetes. A person can look and act the same as other people while participating in typical activities each day, managing their symptoms and condition privately.

It is important to note, though, that unseen disabilities may be no less serious or life hindering than those with visible manifestations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 set forth protection from discrimination for all people regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex — including sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2021, the Equality Act amended this Act, expanding the definition to include protection from discrimination based on age or disability.

The SSA includes diabetes on its list of disabilities, regardless of whether evidence of the disease is visible. This inclusion protects any individual with diabetes from discrimination.

All people with diabetes have protection from discrimination in seeking a job, as well as the right to reasonable accommodations to care for themselves and perform their job well while at work.

Examples of those accommodations include a place to test blood sugars safely and privately, breaks to test blood sugars, and a stool to sit on if they experience pain associated with nerve damage.

Some, but not all, people with type 1 diabetes are entitled to monetary benefits from the SSA. There are two SSA programs that offer benefits:

  • Social Security Disability: Title II of the Social Security Act is available to people who have paid contributions to Social Security through their taxable earnings.
  • Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI): Title XVI of the Social Security Act is for those with limited income.

The disability must prevent an individual from working for at least 1 year, or a doctor must expect it to result in death within 1 year. Any awarded benefits will start the sixth month after the date on which the disability began.

A person can apply in person, over the phone, by mail, or by filing online at the SSA’s website.

Local SSA field offices or state-affiliated agencies called Disability Determination Services (DDS) usually process applications.

People can contact the SSA with questions at 800-772-1213 or online.

The SSA defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairments, which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

The application will require medical professionals to submit evidence attesting to and providing proof of impairment. This evidence might include clinical or laboratory reports or imaging reports.

Welfare agents, teachers, clergy, or family members can also provide other evidence to support the application.

Following the denial of an individual’s claim, they have the right to file an appeal.

A different team at the DDS will review the application and come to a new determination.

If the second team decides to deny the application, an applicant has the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. An applicant or their representatives may submit additional evidence at this time.

It is important to discuss any personal needs with an employer so that they can make an effort to provide reasonable accommodations for any disability.

Although a written request for accommodations is not a requirement, it is advisable, as it may help communicate the person’s needs clearly and serve as a valuable written record.

Before submitting a request, an individual should check the employee handbook to see whether the employer already has a system in place for making such requests.

A person discussing disability accommodations with their employer may benefit from:

  • providing documentation from a doctor with their request, as the employer has the right to request sufficient documentation of a health condition
  • being clear about needs and how reasonable accommodation will better enable job performance
  • being willing to work with the employer to find a solution that is beneficial
  • offering a trial period for the new accommodation so that both parties can see how it will meet the need and then make adjustments as necessary

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic health condition that can have disabling effects on the body.

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are often able to manage their condition through medication, insulin, and dietary regulation.

In some cases, however, diabetes can become difficult to manage and make work challenging or impossible.

Type 1 diabetes can qualify as a disability under the ADA if the disease is having long-term, debilitating effects on the person’s body. In this case, the individual may be eligible for reasonable accommodations from their employer to continue doing their job.

In the event that they can no longer work, they may be eligible for monetary benefits through the SSA.

The SSA accepts applications in person, by mail, or online, and it will make a determination regarding a person’s eligibility for benefits.