I had just started on my insulin pump the day before. I wasn’t quite sure about all the beeps and buzzes yet so I sat in the seat closest to the door of the classroom just in case I needed to leave quickly to silence my new pancreas. My normal seat was basically front and center (#nerdstatus).
I guess the class was a little rowdy towards the end of the session that night because the professor felt the need to bring us back to attention. “Come on guys. We’ve got about an hour left of class, stay with it. Unless you’re all just waiting to sneak out the door like Sara.”
The whole class was laughing and I was suddenly red hot and fuming on the inside. My friends in the class knew I had diabetes but the professor did not. He also had no idea why I wasn’t in my regular seat that night. It was my own fault. I never told him.
When I got home from class I pounded out an angry email. I explained the situation and how hurt I was by his comment. His reply was back in my inbox almost as soon as I hit send. He apologized profusely, which I knew he would. He was my favorite professor and I knew him to be an advocate for social justice and equality. I knew he would not have said anything if he knew what was really going on. He offered to apologize in front of the class during our next session (which I refused). And from that moment on, he was one of my strongest advocates as I finished my education and beyond (his family has participated in local JDRF walks).
His statement in front of the class however, could never be erased. Apologizes are not retroactive. Neither are legal accommodations. When I returned to college after my diagnosis, I didn’t know that I was eligible for accommodations. I still didn’t know a few years later about my rights and protections when the professor asked the class if we could have a four hour class session with no meal break during dinner time so we could instead get out earlier. I couldn’t manage that schedule on my insulin regimen at the time, and I didn’t know that I could have had an accommodation that would entitle me to a break without disclosing that fact publicly to the rest of the class. Instead I was forced to raise my hand in front of the whole class and be viewed by my classmates as the one who was at fault for their longer class session. A simple piece of paper on file would have notified the professor ahead of time and saved me the trouble and the embarrassment.
The parts of my life that I share here hopefully show that I believe I can still pursue all my dreams and passions with diabetes. I have done many things that people told me I wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be able to do; I just did them with a little extra planning and preparation.
That’s the exact same way that I view the various accommodations available to people living with diabetes. It’s preparing for the worst case scenario. Do I think I will need to take an exam at a separate time than the rest of the class? Probably not, but what if I’m hypoglycemic when the test starts? I don’t want to take a test if my brain isn’t working properly.
It’s not just about education. These same rights protect me the employment process and in public spaces. I’m not looking for special privileges. The accommodations available to people living with diabetes are legally designed to only level the playing field to make sure I have the same opportunities available to people without diabetes.
I don’t want to use accommodations, and most often I don’t use them because I am in situations where I don’t need them. However, I am very thankful for the protections. I always carry glucose tabs in my purse and there are always juice boxes in my fridge. I hope everyday that I don’t need to use them, but I am not willing to live life without them.