Gluten Free Friends joins FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), NCA (National Celiac Association) and AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) in this joint letter to colleges across the country.
U.S. Department of Justice Reaches Agreement with Rider University
In February of 2019, the United States Department of Justice determined that Rider University violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to accommodate students with disabilities as a result of food allergies. In light of the settlement, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) and the National Celiac Association (NCA) encourage all colleges and universities to carefully assess how well they are meeting the needs of students with celiac disease, food allergies and other food-related disabilities to ensure compliance with the ADA.
“The ADA defines ‘disability’ to include any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as eating, or a major bodily function, including the digestive system” according to the settlement.
The US determined that Rider violated Title III of the ADA in several ways, including that it “did not provide adequate information on its website for students seeking to obtain reasonable modification...; has improperly delegated responsibility for accommodating students with [food-related] disabilities to a food service provider; and in certain instances Rider does not readily offer exemptions from its meal plans for students seeking exemption due to a food allergy or food-related disability.”
The terms of the Rider University settlement are consistent with those reached in the 2012 Leslie University settlement. Students with food-related disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations from their college. Please read some of the important actions Rider is now required to take to comply with the settlement agreement.
Even among schools that use the same food service vendors, there is tremendous inconsistency in how well colleges manage dietary needs. Most college food services, whether they are contract-managed or self-operated, can meet these challenges when given the proper resources and support. The most successful programs have taken steps similar to those required in this settlement, and some have gone even further.
By undertaking an honest assessment of current offerings and learning from successful programs, schools can take incremental steps forward and ensure they are in compliance with ADA. Schools may find different ways of tackling the challenges of celiac disease and food allergies, but they must find a way to meet this need.
FARE and NCA are here to support your efforts, and summer is a great time to implement changes in your dining halls. Read here for first steps.
Being proactive and implementing solutions now will not only help colleges and universities avoid legal trouble, it is an enormous marketing advantage. There are 35 million Americans with food allergies and/or celiac disease, and this number is only increasing. Between 1995 and 2011, the CDC found a 50 percent increase in food allergies among children. These children are growing up and attending college in record numbers. Going beyond accommodating to genuinely serving their needs can only help colleges recruit students in a competitive market.
Lisa Gable, CEO Food Allergy Research and Education
Lee Graham, CEO National Celiac Association
Sheryl Harpel, Founder Gluten Free Friends
Kristie Orr, President Association on Higher Education & Disability
After our Rider University post, I reached out to NCA and FARE to ask if we could work together to educate colleges on the case and its implications. I was delighted to find such enthusiastic partners in Carla Carter, NCA, and Kristi Grim, FARE. When Kristi then included AHEAD, the perfect team was created to spread our message.
Working together, we can make a larger impact on behalf of college students with food-related disabilities. NCA's college website page now includes a link to our Celiac College Student Survey. Kristi, who heads up FARE’s college program, has been very helpful in getting our Celiac College Student Survey Results to the attention of the appropriate food service vendors. Please keep those Celiac College Student Surveys coming!
Distributing this letter is challenging. It has already been sent to 500 colleges, but you can help by sharing this post on your college parent and student facebook pages, in support groups, and anywhere you think it could help. Go here to learn more about our GFF strategy for improving the college experience for students with celiac and food allergies.
Thank you! And special thanks to Carla and Kristi!