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Gluten-Free in College - How to Survive, Thrive, and Paying it Forward to the Next Generation

Can someone with celiac disease attend college?

Of course you can attend college if you have celiac disease! Not only can you survive - but you can thrive at a college or university. But your path to finding the right university might look a little different than others. You'll want to find a place that not only connects with your education path, but also allows for housing or dining modifications to accommodate your gluten-free lifestyle.



What is ada? does celiac disease qualify?

Thankfully, those with disabilities and their loved ones worked very hard to pass something called The Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. This helps establish equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and helps to eliminate discrimination to those with a disability. In 2008, an amendment to the ADA included any disability that limits a major life activity - including eating, and disability that includes a major bodily function (like the digestive tract). This includes celiac disease.


While it may be a surprise to some with celiac disease to consider yourself a person with a disability, this law really does help in situations like employment and school - from the 504 plan in elementary school to college years! The ADA allows those with celiac disease to access reasonable accommodations from any entity that gets funding from the federal government - including almost all colleges and universities.


Most importantly, you cannot be denied admission into a public university solely based on your disability. And while you're at school, you may have opportunities for reasonable accommodations in housing, dining plans, and more. The ADA is here to help you with your needs throughout your education and work life with a disability.


What should I do before attending school?

First and foremost, meeting with the school's disability office is priority.


While the ADA can afford a lot of accommodations, you first need to work with your school's disability office. No one can help you if no one knows about your needs. You'll most likely have to bring in a recent doctor's note with your restricted diet needs/celiac disease diagnosis. With this, you'll have access to any schooling accommodations, and can work with residential life for any housing accommodations you may need. This should be done in advance of starting school.


Residential Life. While it may not seem related directly to celiac disease, housing is a big part of your college life if you're living on campus. You may have access to residence halls that allow microwaves, toasters, or hot plates - when other students do not have this access. Or you may have access to dorms/residence halls that are reserved for graduate students if they have full kitchens, etc. Every college and university is unique, and so will their living accommodations. The day that you arrive to move into your residence hall is too late to evaluate the amenities of your residence hall.


Dining Services. Like how each college campus is unique, dining halls and dining plans probably look a lot different from college to college too. Some are well-known for their allergen-friendly or gluten-free dining halls or dining stations. While we wish that every college could provide a gluten-free-only dining hall or even a dedicated dining station, some offer far less for gluten-free students. Dining Services can help you put together a list of the safest places to eat on campus, and visiting the dining halls in person is a great way to see what it's really like! Getting to know about the on-campus food options should be done in advance of the start of school!


Visit our College Dining Halls article to learn more!


Many colleges require mandatory meal plans for students living on campus. If you're attending a college that does not have access to food that meets your needs, there is a legal precedence that you may be exempt from mandatory meal plans. This is also where Disability Services and Dining Services should be involved.


Dietitians. Access the college's on-staff dietitian to work together on making the best, most appropriate, meal plans for your dietary restrictions. These dietitians are on-staff to make sure that you are fed nutritious and safe food so you can thrive in your academic life.


Paying It Forward

We're happy to be an advocacy partners with Gluten Free Friends. Gluten Free Friends advocates for inclusive, safe dining for college students with food restrictions - like celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. Founder Sheryl Harpel aims to empower students and prospective students and ultimately improve dining options for college students with celiac disease and food allergies.


If you are currently a college student, here's your chance to share your experience on campus with student dining, housing and more! If you are a prospective student, you can visit their survey for honest feedback from students at a school you’re interested in! The GFF (Gluten Free Friends) College Dining Survey includes honest feedback from students with a variety of dietary restrictions like gluten intolerance, celiac disease and food allergies.


But this resource only works if we focus on paying it forward! Everyone who is gluten-free and attending college should participate in this survey. Every new survey received helps to build a larger and more accurate picture of that college's dining opportunities for students with a special diet.

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