Free National Parks Pass for Some with Diabetes


After some controversy regarding who qualifies for the Free National Parks Access Pass and much back and forth with the National Parks Service, here are the details behind whether or not someone with type 1 diabetes qualifies.

While many believe that type 1 diabetics should be awarded the pass because we qualify under the American’s with Disabilities Act and the associated Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as having a permanent disability, the National Parks Service (NPS) claims that exclusively having diabetes does not qualify you for the pass.

The language that governs the pass program is very ambiguous. Here is section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which governs who is awarded the free pass:

Section 504 protects qualified individuals with disabilities. Under this law, individuals with disabilities are defined as persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. People who have a history of, or who are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, are also covered. Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning. Some examples of impairments which may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication or aids/devices, are: AIDS, alcoholism, blindness or visual impairment, cancer, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease, and mental illness. 

Notice that diabetes is included? Then why on Earth aren’t we awarded the pass? According to the NPS the use of the words “which may” in that sentence make those examples, including diabetes, not exclusive to the law. While diabetes “may” contribute to impairment of a major life function, according to this vague verbiage, having diabetes alone is not an impairment to a major life function. Although one might argue that a body’s inability to process food is a pretty major impairment of a life function and many children with T1D are unable to “care for one’s self.”

The representative from the NPS agreed that the language is vague and offered a method for which some people with diabetes may qualify for the pass:

“Because the language is not definitive, and federal recreational land staff are not qualified to make the medical determination if a visitor qualifies for the pass under the Act, we allow visitors to read and sign a Statement of Disability to self-certify that they qualify.  This affidavit is available at all federal sites that issue and honor the Access Pass.

I hope some of you will try filling out this affidavit in hopes of convincing the NPS that type 1 diabetes is in fact a permanent disability which limits a major life function. While we might now have clarity on why diabetics don’t apply and why I was asked to change this post, we should not stand for this ignorance and neglect towards diabetes.

I am still receiving emails from T1Ds who have received the pass so I know some are being awarded, most likely due to ignorance from the Park Ranger on who should qualify. If you do attempt to get your access pass please let me know how it goes.

Here is the USGS page with info on how to receive the pass and who qualifies. Read through it and see why myself and many others were confused when told diabetics don’t qualify.

Read about my hike into the Grand Canyon with my sidekick, T1D.

Or check out the latest on the Travelbetic blog.

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One thought on “Free National Parks Pass for Some with Diabetes

  1. Gene Popson

    What Dr says type 1 diabetics do not qualify under the associated law as having a permanent disability that “severely limits one or more life functions.”???
    Their licence needs to be shredded!!
    I guess the body organ ‘pancreas’ isn’t really a needed organ to stay alive …we don’t need it?
    The pancreas makes insuline that processes carbohydrates into energy that your body needs to function and stay alive. Without a functional pancreas you will die