Following changes in federal disability law, childhood nut allergies may now meet the legal definition of a disability under Iowa state law. The state’s Court of Appeals ruled last week in a case alleging a daycare center discriminated against a family with special needs.

Shannon Knudsen, whose son has a nut allergy, sued Tiger Tots Community Care Center after the facility declined to accept her child due to concerns about liability and staffing. In district court, it was ruled that the Iowa Civil Rights Act does not protect the child. However, the state appeals court found that a 2008 amendment to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may cover the child’s nut allergy as a disability, thereby affecting how the state defines a disability.

Definition of Disability Expanded

The initial ADA defined disabilities as mental or physical impairments that “substantially limit on or more major life activities.” In 2008, that definition was expanded to include impairments that are episodic or in remission if they “would substantially limit a major life activity when active.”

Now it is up to the district court to determine whether Shannon Knudsen’s child’s allergy fits the federal definition of a disability. Her attorney, Eric UpDegraff, says the decision is a victory for anyone with severe allergies, epilepsy, or other medical conditions that periodically flare up. UpDegraff commented:

“Disabilities like severe allergies or epilepsy carry with them a stigma for people who are running day cares or employing people. It’s fair to say employers and day cares will allow their concerns about somebody’s condition to prevent them from treating that person fairly, and giving them the same access to accommodations that everyone else is entitled to.”

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