Diabetes and discrimination

Kendall Dorricott still gets angry when she recalls the disturbing incident that, a year ago, saw her humiliated in front of her peers and penalized in school.

She was a student at the time, enrolled in a practical nurse program at a Canadian college. While on clinical rotation at a city hospital, Ms. Dorricott was sitting in an enclosed room used exclusively by healthcare staff when she retrieved her insulin pump, which was tucked inside her shirt and activated it to deliver a dose of the medicine she needs to manage her type 1 diabetes. 

“From across the room, my instructor called out to me and said ‘you're going to have to go somewhere else if you're going to do that,’” recalls Ms. Dorricott, who graduated this year and now works as a nurse at the University of Alberta Hospital. “When I asked her why, in front of everybody she asked me to leave the room with her and once we were outside she started going on about how it was unprofessional and offensive for me to administer my insulin in front of other people.”

Ms. Dorricott says the instructor also told her to go to a washroom next time, or to a private, unoccupied room. She says she told the instructor this wasn’t a good idea, given the risk of her passing out if her blood sugar gets too low.

“What she was telling me went against everything my doctors and nurses have ever told me,” says Ms. Dorricott, who was subsequently placed by the school into a remedial program as a result of this incident, a decision that was later reversed. She has since filed a complaint related to the incident with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. “I was so upset I started crying.”

Ms. Dorricott isn't the only person with diabetes who has complained of being singled out or denied accommodation for their disease, says Joan King, manager, outreach and individual advocacy at the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). While there are no statistics tracking these incidents in Canada, there's no question they happen, says Ms. King.

“We don’t hear all of the stories but we certainly receive calls and emails from people who contact us directly to talk about issues where they’ve been discriminated against or where their rights have been denied because of their diabetes,” she says.

Diabetes carries a stigma among people who have a limited understanding of the disease and may not realize that their actions or restrictive demands may be endangering and infringing on the human rights of those with diabetes. 

While diabetes-based discrimination takes many forms and happens in various settings, most of the incidents reported to the CDA are work-related, says Ms. King. Common complaints include being refused a job or promotion, or failure of an employer to accommodate requests such as longer or regular scheduled breaks so they can eat or administer their insulin.

Anyone who feels they’ve been treated poorly or unfairly because of their diabetes should call 1-800-Banting or email advocacy@diabetes.ca, says Ms. King.