Celiac Disease + ADA Laws

There have been numerous times where an establishment says you cannot bring in outside food. If it’s a situation where I know I won’t be able to eat safely at any of their provided restaurants or quick service options, I will call ahead.

I’m not always met with kindness when I call ahead, so be prepared for that. I’m usually just asking to bring a small meal or snack. Some are more than willing to accommodate, especially if you explain the severity of celiac disease.

In the instance you’re met with adversity, know that celiac disease is listed as a disability under the ADA Act. I have even called them to confirm this. The main point to know is that the establishment should make a reasonable accommodation. “It may be both necessary and a reasonable modification to allow a person to bring in safe food when they are unable to safely consume the food served at a venue.”

Here are some of my notes that I keep handy!

Title III of the ADA prohibits public accommodations (defined in the statute to include, among others, healthcare providers, hotels and establishments serving food, movies, theaters or other entertainment venues, public displays or collections, retail and service establishments and educational institutions) from discriminating against disabled individuals by impeding their access to full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services or programs offered by the establishment, and requires them to make reasonable accommodations to their policies, practices and procedures as necessary to provide full and equal access.

Celiac disease in fact is not an allergy, but an autoimmune disorder in which consumption of the protein gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye) causes permanent damage to the surface of the small intestines. This in turn interferes with the absorption of nutrients into the body, potentially leading to vitamin deficiencies that deprive the brain, bones, nervous system and liver of vital nourishment. DOJ therefore takes the position that celiac disease and severe allergic reactions (which may result in difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma and anaphylaxis) affect the major life activity of eating and the major bodily functions of the immune, digestive, bowel, respiratory and neurological systems, thereby triggering ADA coverage.


  • Celiac meets the definition because a substantial limitation
  • Making reasonable modifications to their policies and practices
  • Places of public accommodation
  • Protected under the ADA and business is required to accommodate me
  • Bringing a small amount of food is reasonable
  • Public and private regulation
  • Any program that’s open to the public
    • Title 2 – public
    • Title 3 – private 
  • I have a right to ask for reasonable modifications
  • Only exemption is places of worship

Title II (State and Local Government)

Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services  

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. It applies to all state and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of state or local governments. It clarifies the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, for public transportation systems that receive federal financial assistance, and extends coverage to all public entities that provide public transportation, whether or not they receive federal financial assistance. It establishes detailed standards for the operation of public transit systems, including commuter and intercity rail (e.g., AMTRAK).

This title outlines the administrative processes to be followed, including requirements for self-evaluation and planning; requirements for making reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination; architectural barriers to be identified; and the need for effective communication with people with hearing, vision and speech disabilities. This title is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

More information and events related to ADA Title II (State and Local Government).

Title III (Public Accommodations)

Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities 

This title prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and so on.  This title sets the minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of facilities. It also requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense.  This title directs businesses to make “reasonable modifications” to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. It also requires that they take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities.  This title is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

More information and events related to ADA Title III (Public Accommodations).

It is common for places that serve food to justify their policy forbidding outside food by stating it is a health code violation or a food safety issue. While that may be legitimate, state and local laws must give way to federal law. The ADA—federal law—requires reasonable accommodations for people with severe allergies.  And the ADA overrides the local health code requirements.  (Source)

I hope this is helpful!!

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