Diabetes - A Hidden Disability

Created on: 29 Jul 2019 | Last modified: 04 Apr 2023

One in twenty-five people in Scotland (228,000) currently suffer from diabetes and many of these will be teachers and lecturers. Worryingly, an estimated 20,000 people in Scotland have undiagnosed diabetes. 

Diabetes is a serious condition where a person’s blood glucose level is too high. There are two main types, Type 1 and Type 2; they’re different conditions, but they’re both serious.

Under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, diabetes is a disability. With the right treatment and care, people with diabetes can live a healthy life. However, if not well-managed, the condition can have serious side-effects, including heart disease, kidney failure, eyesight loss, and neuropathy (loss of sensation, especially in the feet).

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in the UK. If a person with diabetes gets ill, they may take longer to recover than non-diabetics – a factor with implications for absence management procedures. 

Teachers with diabetes can face additional challenges, such as regulating their food intake during the working day. Diabetics can develop hypoglycaemia (go into a ‘hypo’), experiencing symptoms such as blurred vision, trembling, palpitations, and headache, if their blood sugar drops too low, which can be avoided by eating at regular intervals.

In busy schools and colleges, teachers and lecturers often work through lunch, which is not a healthy practice for any teacher, but especially so for those with diabetes.

Some teachers report being told to arrange their annual diabetic health checks, blood tests and retinal screening either after school or in the school holidays.  This, of course, isn’t always possible. The Equality Act protects workers from disability related discrimination and provides for them to have reasonable adjustments such as reasonable time off for appointments. 

More information about how to manage diabetes at work can be found in guidance provided by the STUC, “Supporting Diabetes in the workplace. A Guide for trade union representatives”.

More information about diabetes can be found in the Diabetes UK website.