Miles MacLaughlin loves the YMCA. Three times a week, the 4-yr old Austin boy spends hours at the nonprofit's Mother's Day Out program, playing, coloring and learning to write his name.
Miles, who has diabetes, needs to have his blood sugar tested. But who should do that testing is the question at the center of a dispute about how far the local YMCA should go to accomodate children with medical conditions.
In August, Elaine MacLauglin and her husband, Brian, enrolled Miles in the Mother's Day Out program at the Southwest Branch of the YMCA. The program is offered to YMCA members and allows parents to drop off their children for supervised activities from 9:30 am to 1:30pm three times a week. MacLaughlin said she pays $170 per month for the program.
YMCA officials accepted Miles into the program but said their staffers would not monitor his blood sugar levels, said James Ruiz, the YMCA's lawyer. So MacLaughlin stays at the YMCA while her son attends the program and participates in activities with other kids.
"It's crucial for his safety that I'm there for his testing," she said.
But MacLaughlin says the YMCA should monitor her son's blood sugar levels because his disorder is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The YMCA disagrees, saying that diabetes is not a disability and that the Mother's Day Out program doesn't have a paid staff member to provide such care.
"It is a fancy baby-sitting program," Ruiz said.
To Advocacy Inc.- a federally-financed nonprofit group that defends the rights of people with disabilities- the case isn't about baby-sitting.
"Nondisabled children are allowed to be in the program without their parents' presence on site," said Advocacy lawyer Lucy Wood, who is representing the MacLaughlins. "YMCA's refusal to make the accommodation is thus a form of discrimination."
Miles has type 1 diabetes, a disease in which the body produces little or no insulin, the hormone needed to convert sugar into energy. Eight to ten times a day, his parents prick his finger and test his glucose with a blood sugar monitor. If it's too high, they adjust his insulin through a pump. If it's too low, they give him a juice box or snack.
"It takes all of 35 seconds," MacLaughlin said.
She said she has offered to train the YMCA staff, provide the equipment, supply extra juice boxes and snacks, and be "on-call" to adjust Miles' insulin, if necessary.
The YMCA refused.
Elizabeth Williams, a certified diabetes educator with the Specially for chidren medical facility, says that's not an uncommon reaction. "Some sites are very, very uncomfortable doing that," Williams said. "They feel like they're liable if anything happens."
MacLaughlin said she has offered to sign a liability waiver.
The YMCA- which, like all YMCAs, acts independently of the national organization and follows rules that its own volunteer board of directors sets - does not dispute that it is required to make accommodations for people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Title III of the act, people with disabilities must have equal access to goods, services and facilities open to the public, including " a gymnasium....or other place of exercise or recreation."
Ruiz says the YMCA routinely modifies its programs for people with disabilities and, in one case, hired an interpreter for a deaf child taking swimming lessons. But unlike diabetes, deafness is a disability, he said.
That remains unclear. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in at least one case that diabetes does not count as a legally protected disability. But two agreements reached in the mid-1990s between the Department of Justice and two large day care chains-La Petite Academy and KinderCare - require staffers to monitor students' blood glucose levels. 'They do not, however, have to administer insulin.
Ruiz says that those agreements don't apply because they involve day cares and that the Mother's Day Out program is an informal service offered to parents.
The real problem, he said, is that Mother's Day Out is staffed by a rotating cast of volunteers, making an accommodation difficult, he said.
Wood said she's open to other solutions, such as having staffers from another part of the YMCA do the testing.
The YMCA has declined to participate in a free mediation process sponsored by the Justice Department. If the matter is not resolved, the family may go to court, Wood said.
MacLauglin said she doesn't want to do that. She just wants her child to enjoy the YMCA like everyone else.
"I just want him to be a kid," MacLaughlin said.