In July 2016, a student at Rider University in New Jersey filed a complaint to the Justice Department, arguing that the school failed to make proper accommodations for students with severe food allergies. The student has celiac disease, an immune disease triggered by gluten. NJ.com reports the Justice Department agreed that Rider’s policies were in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which grants Congress the power “to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.”
The university does not agree with that conclusion, but has agreed to make modifications to campus food preparation. One of those changes, a Rider spokesperson told NJ.com, includes a new food-prep area that excludes the most common foods that can trigger allergies. Per the terms of the settlement, Rider has also agreed to hire a full-time dietician to advise students on how to manage food allergies.
If you were unaware, as I was, that food allergies qualified as disabilities under the ADA, read up: According to the Asthma And Allergy Foundation Of America, allergies are usually considered disabilities under that law. Under Section 504, a disability impairs one or more of a person’s “life activities,” such as breathing, eating, moving around, etc. Because a food allergy impairs a person’s eating, it is considered a disability under the law.
Given new research that finds half of adults with food allergies developed them as adults, college dining halls could be an arena where people are potentially discovering new or worsening food allergies. And now we know they’re legally required to accommodate those diners.