Diabetes : disability or is it a chronic illness

The statistics are staggering, showing that diabetes is a growing threat to the nation’s wellness and that it is a chronic illness. But, asks Marchelle Abrahams, does this make it a disability according to South African legislation? 

According to the World Health Organisation, four times as many people have Type II diabetes today compared to 36 years ago.

Globally about 1.5 million people died as a direct result of diabetes in 2012.

Statistics also show that 7% of adults aged between 21 and 79 (3.85 million people) are being diagnosed with diabetes.

The numbers don’t lie – diabetes is a chronic illness – but does this make it a disability?

Justene Smith, disability specialist at Progression Transformation Enablers (Progression), sheds some light on the situation.

“There is no list in place that stipulates if a condition or illness is definitely a disability or not.

“This is partly because conditions are experienced differently from one person to the next.

“When determining whether a certain condition, like diabetes, can be classified as a disability, we must turn to the Employment Equity Act.” According to the act, people with disabilities are those who have a long-term or recurring physical, including sensory, or mental impairment, which substantially limits their prospect of entry into or advancement in employment.

For diabetes to be classified as a disability under the act, it needs to meet the requirements of the definition.

Diabetes is a long-term condition and falls within the first part of the definition, says Smith. Secondly, diabetes can be considered a physical impairment because this is defined as a total or partial loss of a body part or function.

“In most cases, diabetes can be managed by medication and diet, and therefore does not substantially limit a person’s prospect of entry into or advancement in employment.

“Generally diabetes, if well managed, would not be considered a disability as per the Employment Equity Act definition.”

In addition, diabetes can result in other conditions which may be considered a disability.

For example, long-term poorly controlled diabetes can often result in renal failure, glaucoma, strokes and lower limb amputation.


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