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Is my child who is severely allergic to peanuts considered to have a disability? I was told by her new school for next year that she may be able to get special accommodations because of her "disability." What does that mean?



Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your child's peanut allergy may be considered a disability.

A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual.

There are many major life activities. Some of them are caring for oneself, seeing, and walking, and eating is one of the major life activities.

Therefore, a child with a life-threatening food allergy is considered to have a disability under the ADA.  If your child is severely allergic to peanuts, i.e., even small traces of peanuts may trigger a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis, then your child has a "disability" under the ADA.

In such a case, you may be able to create a 504 plan for your child in collaboration with his/her school.  A 504 plan protects the rights of persons with disabilities in programs and activities that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education.  Some of the entities that receive funds are public schools and institutions of higher education. 

A 504 plan may be different for each child and changes as the child gets older.  Appropriate accommodations in a 504 plan allow a child with a life-threatening food allergy to participate safely and equally with his friends/peers in all activities at school.

Examples of what may be included in your child's 504 plan:

  • train the entire staff with information regarding the offending food allergen (in your child's case, peanuts), symptoms of allergic reactions and emergency procedures;
  • provide staff, including teachers and bus drivers, with additional training on administering an EpiPen and how to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis;
  • send information home to all other students about your child's life-threatening food allergy and ask that foods containing peanuts are not brought to school;
  • avoid using food as rewards in the classrooms;
  • educate all students at the beginning of the school year about a life-threatening food allergy; and/or
  • celebrate birthdays in classrooms without providing foods with peanuts or other foods that may trigger an allergic reaction.

It is important that you call your child's school to inquire if a 504 plan can be devised.  If so, you will meet with the school administrators to discuss the accommodations your child may need.

As your child gets older, his/her 504 plan will change.  Therefore, make sure you review your child's 504 plan before the start of every school year.  Your child may start to play sports or participate in after school activities that require additional accommodations to be added in the 504 plan.

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