Diabetic Teen Kicked Out Of Drive-In Movie Due To Contraband Food

If you, a family member, or a friend has diabetes, you know that it’s a good idea to carry some quickly-absorbed sugar in case of a dangerous precipitous blood sugar drop. A teen in New Jersey claims that he was doing just that, not trying to smuggle snacks into a drive-in theater for family movie night. The theater owner happens to be a pediatrician, and he isn’t buying this excuse.

This story began two weeks ago, when a New Jersey family visited a drive-in and were kicked out because of what their son calls an emergency supplies kit. His insulin and and EpiPen were no problem, but the candy and juice box in his backpack were not allowed. The family said that the candy and juice are emergency supplies that the teen carries everywhere, since he can’t guarantee that food he can eat is available everywhere. His father explained to TV station WPVI:

He needs to have items with him to handle low blood sugar. He’s got celiac, he’s got numerous food allergies. We are bringing these items in not because they are extra items to eat, but because they are for his own safety.

Makes sense: he can’t count on acceptable food being available everywhere and in a convenient spot. The owner of the theater countered that there are gluten-free and diabetic-friendly foods, not to mention a lot of candy, available at the theater’s concession stand, and there are no exceptions to the “no outside food” rule. Selling snacks keeps the place in business, the owner told WPVI, and if he granted one exception, other people would also claim to have diabetes.

The teen called his family’s experience “humiliating,” but the theater owner won’t budge.


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  1. webalias says:

    The theater owner ought to budge, as his policy appears to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, public accommodations are required to make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, and procedures in order to make their goods and services available to people with disabilities (28 CFR § 36.202 and 36.203). The theater owner’s argument that “if he granted one exception, other people would also claim to have diabetes” is roughly the same argument that could be made by a hotel with a “no pets” policy, to illegally prohibit service animals — i.e., if the hotel lets one individual bring a service animal, other guests will falsely claim disabilities in order to bring their pets. The owner’s “it’s a private business” argument is equally flawed — it’s a public accommodation, and must follow the law.

    • Xenotaku says:

      I don’t see how it’s a violation of ADA. The juice box, maybe. But the candy bar? The theater sells candy bars. Unless it’s a prescription candy bar (I doubt it), there’s going to be an equivalent available at the theater. Reasonable modifications would be if the theater only served popcorn and soda, and that wouldn’t work for the kid’s situation, they’d have to allow it. But as long as the theater has options available for sale that will satisfy the child’s medical needs, there’s no ADA violation. Sucks for the parents that they have to pay theater snack prices, but that’s part of going to the theater.

      • webalias says:

        You could be right. I didn’t say his policy violates the ADA — but that it “appears to.” It’s not a slam dunk, few cases of discrimination are, especially when it comes to disability. If the kids’ family or a government agency were to go after the theater owner, the owner might be able to make a reasonable argument as to why the specific accommodation the family was seeking would not be required in this case. But that’s not what the theater owner is saying. His “then everybody will be claim to be disabled” argument could be used by anybody who wants to discriminate, and will never fly. And his notion that he’s a private business — and therefore, apparently, doesn’t have to follow the law — is an even worse argument.

      • theoriginalcatastrophegirl says:

        the quote from the parent also states he has celiac. i am not terribly familiar with gluten in candy bars, but i suspect it’s possible that there are candy bars with gluten in them.

        i am diabetic and allergic to mango so i keep juice with me just to be sure i don’t have an emergency where the only juice available is “tropical: which almost always involves mango.

    • furiousd says:

      I agree that the owner should have made an exception for this kid, but I’m still against the public accommodation line. I know it’s the law, but I don’t agree with it. I think that as long as businesses make their policies clear in some form (perhaps an updated version of the hobo signs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobo#Hobo_signs_.28symbols.29) to signify who is accomodated at the establishment. Suppose those with celiac become a protected class under ADA like diabetics apparently are, will the guy running a hotdog cart be shut down because he doesn’t have gluten-free buns for the one person a year that requests them? Buildings paid for with tax dollars, sure, but private businesses shouldn’t be forced to spend their own money to possibly accommodate someone who might come in at some point in the future. If they want to go to the expense and be known as a [insert group]-friendly establishment, more power to them. In the situation presented in the article, I think it’s just good business to wave him in and not worry about it, particularly if it’s a small amount that corroborates his diabetic story and other evidence is in hand.

  2. CzarChasm says:

    They sell glucose tablets for diabetics to carry, they are normally considered more effective than candy or juice. There is zero percent chance that this kid “needs” to have specific candy, and could easily have bought some instead of insisting he had to have what he brought. It sounds like a family of cheapos with a bit of a drama queen complex, I am with the drive in on this one.

  3. GnRJosh says:

    Wait….there are drive-ins that don’t permit outside food? What the hell? The 3 drive-ins nearest to me all allow outside food, with one going so far as to advertise specials at local restaurants. Part of the allure of the drive-in for our family is my popping a large paper bag full of popcorn for the entire family and surrounding people to share. We even bring our own popcorn toppings. The only forbidden food-related items are grills. We’ve been known to bring a crock pot full of nacho cheese and a few large bags of tortilla chips when we go with other families. I just don’t get it.

  4. theoriginalcatastrophegirl says:

    when i have a severe, unexpected hypoglycemia event (type 1 diabetes) there’s no time to go to the lobby/concession stand, wait in line and buy something. minutes count. “treat, then test” is a standard for hypoglycemia – even waiting for an ambulance could be too long in a real emergency.
    my preference is strawberry gummies- they taste way better than glucose tablets, store well and act really fast.
    glucose tablets are nasty. sugary chalk. they have to be to prevent very young diabetic kids from eating their emergency supplies because they taste good.
    even the TSA allows food and beverages for diabetics

    • webalias says:

      You raise a good point — the time it could take to wait in line at a concession stand and buy something could mean it’s not a viable alternative to be allowed to bring one’s own food. But even if time wasn’t an issue, there’s another problem here: A person with a disability is entitled by law to “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages…” of a place of public accommodation. That’s not what’s happening in the case of this drive in. A person who is not disabled and wants to enjoy a movie only has buy a ticket. But a person with a disability is being required to make an additional purchase, just to get what a non-disabled person gets for the ticket price — the ability to watch the movie. That’s not equal.

      • CzarChasm says:

        Once again, they are not required to make an additional purchase, they may choose to, to avoid the alternative (glucose tablets) but there is no requirement. I doubt strongly if any court of law is going to consider not liking the taste of medication to be a necessary part of someone’s disability.

        Not only that, but there is no mention of how much candy/juice he was bringing. If he only had the recommended 7-8 pieces of candy in some small bag, this story may have had a different ending.

        • theoriginalcatastrophegirl says:

          oh i carry glucose tablets and my gummy candy. i wasn’t diabetic as a child but my cousin was and i know getting her to take glucose tablets was a fight sometimes due to the taste and texture.
          but if he’s a teenager, he’s old enough to suck it up when the circumstances require it.

          and i never looked before but the label on my target branded glucose tablets says they are gluten free so i wouldn’t expect it to be incompatible with his celiac.

          i’m torn on this issue because i think the theatre owner is probably providing crappy customer service over this and may be close to violating the law, as well as inviting bad publicity; but also i think if the kid really needs his candy bar that badly, he should save an empty glucose tablet bottle and put the candy bar in it. the bottles are mostly opaque.

        • webalias says:

          Although I’m no expert on diabetes, everything I have read suggests that what works best for an individual who has diabetes and experiences low blood glucose — whether glucose tablets, candy, fruit juice or something else — would vary from one individual to another. That makes sense, and seems to be generally true: any medication or treatment plan for any condition may work better for some individuals than others, and may also have side effects that vary from person to person. By law, a public accommodation MUST make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures to accommodate people with disabilities. I would suggest that what’s medically appropriate and reasonable is something that would be determined to a large extent by a individual and his or her doctor. The owner of this drive-in doesn’t get to determine the most appropriate treatment for this kid’s diabetes (even if he happens to be a pediatrician). He can argue that an accommodation is not required, or that it it would “fundamentally alter the goods, services or operation” of his business. But he hasn’t made those arguments. He’s made some pretty stupid ones instead.

  5. mzmoose says:

    New plan:
    Go to this drive-in.
    Have emergency sugar confiscated.
    Inject extra insulin.
    Wait 20-30 minutes for blood sugar crash.
    Call 911 and say, “I accidentally took too much insulin, and the theater people took away my emergency sugar.”
    Probably die, because what 911 will hear is garbled mumbling.

    Oh, wait…

  6. charmander says:

    How can a drive-in forbid outside food? What do they do – search your car? Do they employ food-sniffing dogs to root around in your trunk? Do they make everyone get out of the car and empty out their pockets while trained personnel search for “food contraband” in the glove box, under the floor boards, in everyone’s purse or backpack? Absurd.

  7. EducationalGeek says:

    You don’t qualify for ADA protection because of diabetes or celiac. If the signs say no outside food or drink……that’s exactly what it means. So tired of everyone coddling people. It’s only screwing us. My grandkids have celiac and we work it out ourselves. Finding restaurants with gluten free items and such. Businesses aren’t here to coddle and cater to every little whiny fool who thinks they should.

    • mzmoose says:

      Comparing diabetes and celiac is comparing apples and oranges. For diabetes, it’s not about having “special food,” it’s about having something on you that can save your life. Your body needs some amount of sugar in the blood to function. Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar – can attack rapidly, sometimes out of nowhere (you’d be horrified at what can affect blood sugar), and is a medical emergency. Hypoglycemia can kill you in a matter of minutes. If you don’t have sugar on hand you can have seizures, go unconscious, and die.

      Requiring someone with hypoglycemia to go to a counter to stand in line and purchase something, all while muscles, including the brain and heart, are not working properly due to lack of sugar, is inhuman and basically denying someone medical care in a time of emergency. And that’s why this is an ADA issue, and not “coddling.”