When COVID-19 struck the U.S., Caitlyn Tallarico was concerned about how it would affect her health as an immunocompromised individual with type 1 diabetes. The recent graduate of Widener Commonwealth University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, knew she had a bar exam coming up and would have to sit in a classroom full of other students who may unknowingly have the illness. So when the exam was moved online, she was grateful.
However, that’s when things took a turn for the worse. Shortly before the exam, Caitlyn received an email from the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners (PABOLE) warning her that she would be flagged if she used any of her diabetes supplies during the exam:
“This message is regarding your previously filed medical alert. Your medical alert is still active and you may keep your approved diabetic supplies with you during the October 2020 remote exam. Please be aware that if you use any of your diabetic supplies during testing, your session will be flagged for review by the board office staff. Also, any noise will cause your session to be flagged so please have any glucose monitors in a silent setting. We would ask that you refrain from using any of the items, if possible, unless it is medically necessary to do so. You were approved to have food and drink with you, however, it is strongly discouraged due to the fact that it will be flagged. We are reaching out to ask if you feel you will still need to have these diabetic supplies, food, and a drink with you while testing since the exam is now remote. Thank you.”
Of course, as a person with type 1 diabetes, Caitlyn’s answer to that last question was, of course, “yes.” She would still need access to food and water and her diabetic testing supplies during the exam, even though she would be taking it remotely.
“The fact that I’d be taking the bar exam in my dining room rather than in the Philadelphia Convention Center wouldn’t have any bearing on the broken nature of my pancreas,” Caitlyn writes. “I’d still need my insulin. I’d still need food or a drink in case my blood sugar plummeted. I’d still need my glucose monitor. Why would any of this have changed?”
Wondering how the lawyers on the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners could possibly not realize that their message was against ADA regulations, Caitlyn sent this message in response:
“Unfortunately, for me and the Board, my diabetes cannot be conveniently turned off during testing. Placing my CGM on silent when I’m also prone to low blood sugars is 100% discouraged by my medical team. This message and guidance are incredibly dismissive and ignorant.”
As Caitlyn perused social media, she realized she was not the only person with diabetes that had received the same sort of ignorant email, and others were angry about it too. But despite this, the only response she received to her email was a cricket-chirping “Thank you for your response.”
“Certainly, most of us would be thrilled if we could turn this facet of our lives off for a day—or 3 for the bar exam—but this isn’t the case,” says Caitlyn. “If these things are going to flag the system, flag away. I have no choice. I wish I did.”
Caitlyn says she believes the message she received from PABOLE boils down to a request for her not to be diabetic during the test for the convenience of the examiners, who lack empathy for the candidates.
“The Board has continually noted that its decision to move to a remote exam was in the best interest of candidates’ health, and now, every bar examinee who had been approved for a medical accommodation for diabetes was being asked via a tone-deaf mass email to keep the very things that keep them healthy—and alive for that matter—off the table,” she says.
Luckily, these recent law school graduates have been spending the last few years learning how to stick up for themselves and those around them, and they aren’t planning to take this treatment lying down. We hope these examinees will get the justice they deserve and that their story will be a lesson to others not to attempt to take rights away from those who live with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?