Bella Paladino is a typical eight-year-old from Maryland who loves to learn and play. Bella, a person who lives with type 1 diabetes, wears an insulin pump, which helps lessen the burden of diabetes and allows her to continue to learn and play with her friends. One day in May of 2018, however, the burden of diabetes became very real for her.
Just like many kids her age, Bella was eager to attend a summer camp run by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. When her mother, Nina Paladino, initially contacted the camp facility to see if there were any questions about Bella’s diabetes management, she was assured that everything would be handled. To be certain, Nina sent a follow-up email to the facility, explaining what accommodations were necessary to properly care for Bella. Because she wears an insulin pump, Bella does not regularly require injections prior to meals. She does, however, require assistance in the management of her insulin doses, as she is so young. The process of administering insulin to Bella is as simple as manually entering carbohydrates into the pump’s electronic meter.
In response to Nina’s email, the camp program stated they would not provide any assistance with insulin administration. Bella, never before excluded because of her disability, now could no longer feel like other kids her age because she was denied a spot in the camp. Frustrated with the facility’s response, Nina questioned the directors of the program, saying, “Why can’t my daughter attend? What’s the difference between managing her diabetes and a giving a kid an EpiPen because of an allergic reaction?”
After receiving excuses about liability, Nina knew that something was wrong and contacted our Legal Advocacy department to learn about her daughter’s rights. A Legal Advocacy attorney provided Nina with resources and information that helped her engage in self-advocacy. Our attorney explained that federal antidiscrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibit covered camps from denying access to a child just because of the child’s disability. Nina was also informed that these laws require covered camps to provide accommodations, which can include training their staff members to aid in insulin administration.
With assistance and support from our Legal Advocacy attorney, Nina asserted her daughter’s rights and filed an internal discrimination claim against the camp. Nina also shared the information she learned with many families, in case they faced similar discrimination. Since the Summer of 2018, Nina has been actively engaging in advocacy on Bella’s behalf, with the goal of getting the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to change their policy. She is now awaiting mediation with the camp.
Nina recently shared with us how the Legal Advocacy program has empowered her to stand up for Bella:
“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without the help of the ADA. I cried because my daughter couldn’t get into the program; everything felt like a dead end, until I contacted the ADA. Because of the advice Legal Advocacy provided, I now feel like I’m not scared to stick up for my daughter. I’m not scared to tell people, ‘You can’t discriminate against her.’ It’s empowering knowing what is out there with the rights we have. I’m glad to have reached out to the ADA and will do so in the future if I have more questions. You gave me the guidance on how to go about advocating for my daughter.”