Preparing for the worst

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.

glucose tab protectionI 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.


  • Fantastic post! I was still in the “hide it” stage of my life with diabetes when I was in college. I agree with you, we don’t necessarily want the accommodations, but I am thankful they are there if we need them.

  • I had a lot of trouble in college even with my accomodation letter,* so it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you need it.

    *Don’t get me started on Dr. Berated-student-for-breathing-too-loudly

  • This is a great post Sara. When I was in school, things were so different. Sure my parents told my teachers that I had diabetes but there wasn’t ever a legal “agreement” in place for my care. I did not deliver insulin during school hours when I was younger but there was still the necessary snacks and possible lows. Come college time, I don’t even remember if I told professors about my diabetes. Leveling the playing field is only fair and I like the way you put that 🙂

  • I was in a meeting several years ago where the presenter became increasingly giddy as if the water bottle in front of him contained vodka. After about 15 minutes one of the other managers stood up and interrupted him suggesting that the room could use a little break. I was assigned the task of staying with him until the health and safety nurse was available for him. I heard later that the other attendees stayed in the meeting so Ken could have some privacy. Until then, I had no idea that he was a type 1. It was probably the best save that I have seen in a corporate setting.

  • Great post, I think the same way in terms of j’s 504. I hope he doesn’t need it but its there should he occasion arise.

    This is a good one to share with our newly dxed in accommodations regards as well!

  • Very good post on a tough topic, Sara. Totally agree with you – so glad these protections and accommodations exist, even if we individually don’t always have a need for them. Some do, and that’s enough. Would hate to live in a world where we don’t have these options.

    • I think you misunderstand my point. I don’t know that I have a “need for them” until after the fact, and then legally it is too late. We have a responsibility to protect our rights ahead of time.

  • Nice post, Sara. Thanks for speaking so eloquently on the current hotspot 🙂 This certainly fits my feelings on the subject and will help organize my mind as I’m about to send my sweet girl back to public school.

  • Fantastic post, Sara. I’ve been in similar situations more often than I can count. Sadly, the accommodations don’t always fix the problem, though. If a group of coworkers/students/friends/whatever wants to keep on going through lunch and I need a break, I still feel bad about putting a halt to their progress, even though am fully entitled to do so.

    If I recall, none of my college professors knew about my diabetes either. I tried to make D-accommodations to fit in with their plans, not the other way around. I do believe we have an obligation to try to make it work, if we can.

  • Agreed! Accommodations should be in place before we need them and we should not feel guilty about it. I like the term “leveling the playing field” because with diabetes it’s never level for long.
    Thanks for a great post!

    • Thank you so much Kelly! I almost linked to the ADA website but I was writing so quickly that I missed adding the links when I finally published.

      I tell everyone I speak to on the topic that the ADA is the go-to resource for legal protections for PWD.

  • I agree completely with what Martin said “I was still in the “hide it” stage of my life with diabetes when I was in college. I agree with you, we don’t necessarily want the accommodations, but I am thankful they are there if we need them.” Well said Martin, and great post Sara!

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