Monday, September 3, 2012

Diabetes is a Disability?!?

Okay, this might sound strange, but I never and I mean NEVER thought about myself as having a disability until three days ago. So this morning, I am writing to move beyond the space that I am in. Here's what happened...

I'm currently working on an article about diabetes and I decided to look for journals where I can publish the paper.  I ended up reviewing journals on Disability Studies which,  I thought with the completely academic part of my brain, would be a good place. But then, almost out of no where it hit me...if I am going to publish this article on diabetes in a disability studies journal and I have diabetes, then that means that I have a disability.  OH NO!! 

The other side of brain, the emotional side, kicked in and I was frozen.  The only thing I could do was tweet the following:
Processing the diagnosis of diabetes a year and a half ago was a significant pill to swallow. I must have cried at least five times a day for a month, and only after two months was I down to once a day. There are so many layers to accepting this illness that it can be downright exhausting. Now I feel like I'm processing having a disability. Although I was told that I would need special accommodations because my life would be altered forever unless a cure is found during my lifetime, I never made the link having a "disability."

I received two responses to my desperate tweet:


Both responses directed me to the Americans Diabetes Association and Sara's link was to the page where ADA celebrated its triumph of getting diabetics covered under the American with Disabilities Act.

I realized after reading this that I had called upon this act on my own job. At the time of my diagnosis, I was teaching a 3-hour long evening course from 6pm-9pm. Prior to being admitted into the hospital, I would often save our 10-minute restroom break for the end of class.

Initially, I tried to keep the break at the same time but the gap between meals was too long for my insulin schedule. This made teaching the evening class EXTREMELY difficult because I could not eat while teaching (even though the students often ate snacks during my lectures). So, I had this bright idea that I would order pizza for the entire class. I guess I was feeling guilty about having to stop the class and eat, and I figured if we were all eating it would make the moment easier to endure. Plus, I was raised in a culture where you shared food or at least offered to share before you ate in a person's face.

The idea didn't go over well. Most students had eaten just before class, didn't want the pizza, or were satisfied with the snack they brought and were comfortable eating it at whatever point during the class they felt the urge to eat. So, one student said with an attitude..."Why are we stopping class for a pizza break? If we are finished, I would rather go home."

It was probably my thoughts that this guy is very inconsiderate about the money I spent on this pizza, the ignorance of asking if a 3-hour class was over after only an hour, the disappointment that my idea didn't work, and the frustration of having to make a change in the class that caused me to fire back...

"Look. The reason I wasn't in class last week is because I spent six days in the hospital and I'm now a diabetic. I can no longer wait until the end of this class to eat because I have to give myself an injection of insulin between 7 and 7:30 and I have to eat at that time. I thought that if I bought pizza for the class that it would mean that we all would eat at the same time. But no one wants the pizza. Our break at the end of class has been moved to the middle from this point forward. If you want to leave after an hour of a 3-hour class, I am not holding you hostage, it's your grade not mine. As soon as I finish eating, I will continue teaching. It's up to you if you want to stay."

There was complete silence in the room after that. I heard no more complaints about the adjustments, I no longer bothered to share my dinner, and I finished the semester fairly well. Although my personal policy on eating during class was rather relaxed, I know plenty of professors who strictly enforce the "no eating during class" policies and sometimes I wonder how they would treat a diabetic student enrolled in an evening class.

After this experience, I informed my superior that I was diabetic and did not want to be assigned to any more night classes because it was too difficult to manage. He obliged without hesitation, thankfully.  I learned from the link on Sara's tweet that I was actually calling upon my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So, I guess I can't use the rights of Americans with Disabilities if I don't have one, right?  So, I looked up the definition. According to www.dictionary.com

#2 is coded with bias words such as "full, and normal life." Explanations like this is why it's been rather challenging to view myself as having a disability.

No matter what anyone says, disability or not,  I WILL have a full life even if I can't have a "normal" life.  Extraordinary people have extra-ordinary lives anyway.

I'll think more about this word "disability" over the next days, weeks, months, and years because I think the word can be problematic and liberating. I'll seek other definitions for the word and even create my own. I can't say today that I will embrace the word "disability" to describe myself but I will say that I am less rattled by its usage as a means to describe who I am after reading more about my legal rights to have the accommodations that I need.

Perhaps far too many folk don't see diabetes as a disability either and maybe that's not a good thing.