Does an Ostomy Qualify as a Disability?

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Support the Disability Integration Act

By Jeanine Gleba UOAA Advocacy Manager

    Sue Mueller, BSN, CWOCN

Does an ostomy qualify as a disability? This is a question that UOAA receives on occasion. You are living with an ostomy, you feel pride that you are independent with your ostomy care, that you are able to problem solve the glitches that arise, you have resumed your former activities and tried a few new ones…life is good.  So it’s confusing when you hear someone tell you that you qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as having a disability. Perhaps you can walk and talk and see and hear and are independent with your care. You may envision a disabled person as someone who needs help with care, uses a wheelchair or a walker; someone obviously disabled. Well, elimination of waste is a major body function and your elimination of waste has changed; in fact you need to wear a prosthetic device (ostomy appliance) to manage this change. You have a record of an impairment of a major body function, therefore you are protected by the provisions of the ADA. You do not have a visible disability, and not all disabilities are visible. (Please be aware that the term disabled means different things in different systems i.e. in Social Security disabled means unable to work.)

Fast forward 15-20-30 years, you have aged and might be experiencing any number of the challenges that aging brings….combine that with ostomy care and you may find yourself in a whole new world trying to get your needs met and survive in the environment of your choice. That’s when you will be especially glad that you are protected by civil and disability rights legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA, Olmstead vs LS, case law and provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Basically, what these legal documents establish is the expectation that people living with disabilities have the same opportunities as people without disabilities; to live and work and participate in their communities, that the same services and supports that are provided in institutions are provided in the community. Many improvements have been accomplished but the institutional bias in service provision has not been eliminated and the services needed to support non-institutional living have not been created.  The Disability Integration Act (DIA) has been proposed in both the US House and Senate as a measure to end institutional bias and promote services in the community and extend the principles established in previous legislation.

The act is bipartisan legislation that ensures people with disabilities have a federally protected right to live and receive services in their own homes or in the setting of their choosing. The DIA further secures our Constitutionally protected right to liberty by preventing disabled people from being forced into costly institutional settings by unnecessary government regulations.

In addition, the DIA assures the full integration of disabled people in the community by ensuring that people with an ostomy and other conditions are able to exercise real choice in where they wish to receive attendant services, assistance with health-related tasks such as “maintenance and use of a stable ostomy” or other services that enable a person with a disability to live in the community such as in an assisted living facility and lead an independent life.

Our patient bill of rights advocacy efforts have illustrated the gap in expectations and the reality of care.  An issue facing the ostomy community especially as they age is that most assisted living facilities (ALF) across our country will not admit someone with an ostomy or in the rare cases where they do, the ALF no longer needs to retain them once the individual can no longer perform self-care with emptying or changing their pouch. Once the door to assisted living is closed the only option is placement in a long-term care facility/nursing home. Assisted Living homes and nursing homes are radically different environments.

We believe that emptying a pouch is a simple activity of daily living that should fall under toileting assistance/hygiene.  When the issues with care at assisted living facilities result in an ostomate requiring long term care in an institution, when that is not their choice it is a civil rights issue and is exactly what the DIA is trying to address. UOAA supports and advocates for this landmark legislation and encourages the ostomy community to take action here to help us garner legislator support and pass this in 2019.

30 replies
  1. Susan Lowery
    Susan Lowery says:

    At age 59, and having a colostomy for 2 years, my quality of life is not as it should be. I have constant issues. I think it should be a disability.

    • Ginnie
      Ginnie says:

      Hi Susan, why can’t you get disability? It’s says it’s considered a disability through social security. I as well have one and I’m trying to see if I can get it reversed. I can’t do this anymore.

  2. MayLynda Eads
    MayLynda Eads says:

    I had health issues that my doctor thought the colostomy would improve. My quality of life is worse, now I have a whole new set of issues with daily pain. Colostomy should be added to the list for those of us where the procedure impacted my life in a negative manner.

    Best regards,


    • Pat
      Pat says:

      Absolutely agree with you I’m having real issues with my Colostomy I have applied for permanent disability. My life has changed negatively. I need disability to recognize that it is a huge disability for me!!!

          • Cit Lauder
            Cit Lauder says:

            Dear SGAR:
            I am alive after an Ostopy surgery a year ago. When I woke to find a hole in my side and a bag hanging from it…I tried to pretend it wasn’t there and didn’t want anything to do woth it. I was angry, depressed and felt defeated. As a nationally certified Life Coach and chose during surgery to live on, even though I had 15% chance of making it through the surgical procedure and experienced an NDE., I decided I needed to look within and realize that this is a significant part of me and I needed to love myself (and what was left of my body) After several people told me that often people name their ostopy, I thought about that and gave it some reflection…what had happened in my life that I tried to bury..childhood abuse was number one..I decided I needed to love the little girl who had been abandoned,sexually abused and hurt emotionally, but I had inner strength and an survival instincts extraordinaire!. So I named my ostopy..Winnie Poo. Winnie, a dirivitive of my real name I had not used ever….I love Winnie now and we have conversatons (sounds a bit nuts, but it works). Yes, it is a daily occurance…do I eat what I want
            everyday and suffer the consequences or do I do as my doctor recommends, six small meals a day because I have a shorter digestive system and loading up on a meal only gives me a big ball under my ostopy and pain. I swim three times a wekk and exercise after physical therapy..I walk 4 or 5 days a week at least a mile each time..trying for 3 miles. I have good days and bad days and know my time on earth has been shortened and I need to live it to the fullness of my strength. I am 86 now. I’m not going to let my bag dictate my life. I support you in being gentle with yourself, love yourself and pray for God’s grace in your life everyday. Much love to can do it. I am..

      • Clyde Mayer
        Clyde Mayer says:

        I agree also as for being in most work situations does not allow for clothing descetions needed when wearing an ostomy or for that fact changing your pouch when needed.

  3. Bridgett Beardsley
    Bridgett Beardsley says:

    I have had my bag since age 16. I am now 42. I am so glad I found this article. I never really thought about being elderly with an ostomy. I don’t have any family that would know how to take care of it. Thanks for the information. Definitely looking into it more now.

  4. Big Red
    Big Red says:

    My wife is an ostomate whom I love more than the air I breath. She / we deal with this life changing procedure as best we can. She occasionally has serious pain that requires emergency care due to intestinal blockage. She deals with this and many other related issues daily. All while trying live as close to a “normal” life as is possible. Normal is not possible. Enjoying life is, and I try to help her in that goal — always. That said, the proposed legislations mentioned here are necessary and should be approved without much argument. Can anyone tell me what is the current status of the 3 proposed legislations on this site? What / who is holding up passage and why?

    • Contributor
      Contributor says:

      Your wife is blessed to have such a loving, supportive spouse!

      In response to your post from UOAA’s Advocacy Manager: The short version is simply that this is how the wheels of government moves….grindingly slow. It doesn’t help that we have a Congress that struggles to find common ground and compromise to pass legislation. The long version is that since we started advocating for this legislation, Disability Integration Act, the number of co-sponsors has grown through the efforts of many individuals. As of November 2020 Bill HR555 now has 238 co-sponsors. The bill still resides in the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Bill S117 now has 37 co-sponsors and has not moved out of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The end of the 116th Congress is only a couple of months away. There is not much calendar time left and between the election, pandemic, and holidays, I don’t anticipate further action on this legislation. To confirm this I contacted the organizers of the DIA. They informed me that this bill is not moving through the legislative process (no hearings, no mark-ups and no votes out of committees) and will not move as they have been told by House leadership and it is highly unlikely that Senate leadership will move this as well. All civil rights bills have multiple introductions in many congresses prior to passing. They will continue to work this bill in Congress, with advocates and in the media. However, like all civil rights bills (laws) this will take some time. It will have to be reintroduced in the next Congress. The same can be said for the other pieces of legislation we are advocating for. We continue to grow in the numbers of co-sponsors and will keep up the fight in the next Congressional Session regardless of which party is in power. Like your wife and the ostomy community, we must persevere. Please note that we provide updates to this legislation on this webpage. Thank you for your support!

  5. Sk
    Sk says:

    I have just gotten an ileostomy and im already back in the hospital after the initial 23 day hospitalization where an Emergency surgery for a partial colectomy got me this bag. I woke up and was like WTH.

    So anyway im 2 months out and i got back to the hospital because my stoma stopped 100% producing output. No blockage was found but the small bowel is large and prob had a partial one that turned full somewhere in there. Took 12 days of being on a naso-gastric tube with NPO (no food no water) then im in pre-op for a stoma revision….and i kid not…output comes out. Is this my new life? Will this happen again and again? I dont fancy spending 3 weeks of every other month in the hospital with bills as much as a decent sized house each time. This really should be a disability. For me it prevents me from working 100% and im 32 years old. It also prevents my social life from existing and it causes me severe anxiety and depression which do qualify me for a disability. It also caused an added bonus of chronic (so far) intense lower back pain. Im sure it gets better (sarcasm) the longer i have this.

    Everyone who doesnt think it should be one should have one and then report back.

    • trueself
      trueself says:

      It will be a year that I am now the owner of colostomy paraphenalia since the end of last December. I am replying to this post because the words ;how long’ were there. I am unable to take care of this problem and its requirements myself, am dependent on my son and granddaughter. They do this conscientiously and willingly twice a day. I have had few problems for which I am grateful. While people are different, as can be gleaned from these posts, the longer I have to depend on my family members, the more I detest it. I despise myself for not being able to do this task myself, but would never be able to be as good in terms of keeping the site clean and antiseptic. I wonder how many of us have problems above the eyebrows at least on occasion?

  6. Reshna
    Reshna says:

    Hi. I have a j pouch for 12 years and I have many challenges. It has challenged my quality of life. My concern is that it is an inability that should be considered a disability. Society does not accommodate for an invisible disability

  7. Kevin Marvin
    Kevin Marvin says:

    I have had a colostomy since I was in my twenties I am 59 now. The colostomy changed my life for the better when I was younger. Now I’m older and it’s getting harder to work. Worring about the smell I work in hot restaurant and the ring melts and the smell comes out. I can’t work as well and I don’t know what to do about money. Is there any disability I can get and how would I do it

  8. Daniel Williamson
    Daniel Williamson says:

    I received an iliostomy earlier in 2021. I think it should be a disability. It keeps me up around the clock tending to it. Sometimes it won’t stay attached to my side as well as it should, and it’s a distraction to those around me. Just some of the reasons.

    • Connie
      Connie says:

      You need a osteomy nurse who knows her $hit! Mine is a wonder who gives me information every visit! Maybe you have the wrong bag/system for your body shape. There is a diffident learning curve to adhering it to your body, perhaps you could shave if your abdomen is furry, also I take mine off before I shower….prep is important, stoma powder, adhesive, then the ring/gasket/flange and finally the bag. You need the bag that fits your body, flat or convex. Try them all and see what works. Also morning is best for me, before I eat (1cup of coffee) can’t lie… good luck and don’t settle for a bad fit! You can do it, just a matter of finding the right one for you!

  9. Marie
    Marie says:

    I’ve been an ostomate since my colon cancer diagnosis 8 years ago. I have scar tissue/ adhesions from the surgery which causes blockages to occur every few months. These are very painful and often end up in a hospital stay. It is a daily embarrassing struggle but I do the best I can to dress cute and act normal. It isn’t easy and the smell can be embarrassing too! I had to change my diet and avoid healthy foods I love bc I’m scared of getting a blockage. I have to buy special garments and my daily decisions are based around my ostomy. How is this not a disability?! Love to all my fellow ostomates❤️??

  10. Mark
    Mark says:

    Hey everyone! So I had my ileostomy surgery in 2009. I started my job back in 1989 and I was with this company for 32 years and they accommodated me with running machines that had very slim to no lifting. I have a 25 pound permanent lifting restriction from my surgeons. I’ve had 3 hernia operations and it seems like I get one every 5-6 years and I have another one. I’m 56 and unemployed now due to personal reasons (not health related) and I can’t find anything in my field of work that says “light duty” or “no lifting required”. So at my age, another surgery won’t patch me up and send me back out to lift.. I’ve done this for 12 years now and I’m very depressed with high anxiety. My stoma isn’t perfectly round so I have leaks and my skin is always raw around my stoma and I have a constant burning/throbbing pain. I don’t want to get on the pain med train again because it’s hard to get off so I eat edibles. I think every state should legalize it because patients like myself and not to mention people that have cancer and so on need it. I am going to hire an attorney and see if I qualify. It’s the constant worrying about smell, leaks, irritation, restrictions and I have been very patient with it all these years but it’s starting to catch up. I have a friend that retired from SSD and she informed me that she was seeing more patients like us getting approved but getting an attorney will really work for you. There are 2 parts on qualifications. If you make decent money and don’t/can’t take a cut in pay, you will have problems and that’s the biggest reason on why a lot of eligible patients won’t pursue SSD. Good Luck fellow bag people and keep your head up because I look at it like, if you can still can always fight!

  11. Tris
    Tris says:

    Hi! I am 38, and I contracted C-diff after having a c-section. I started off with an Ostomy, reconnected and have intestinal blockages, perforations, take down of the Ostomy and so on. So far I have had 5 surgeries total, this last one I ended up needing to have an ileostomy since majority of my large intestines are removed. My last surgery was done everything was going well until my stoma started to prolapse, and I also have a hernia. I feel that no matter what is going on whether you have an ileostomy or ostomy, whether it’s doing great or not it should be considered a disability once you have it. Due to the spontaneous prolapsing, I cannot work, stand very long, don’t know when it will leak, etc…This is a hard life, life hasn’t been fun even if I try and stay positive. But my husband, children and family near and far are the greatest support system!!!
    Has any of you applied for disability benefits if you feel you cannot work? What about a handicap placard?

    Thanks for reading

  12. Kimberly A. Cox
    Kimberly A. Cox says:

    Not proud owner of a colostomy bag. I’m 44 had since 40 due to emergency surgery from a tumor on my intestines and colon which have been removed partially. I can get a reversal but have to lose 100 pds which is so hard to do when I’m so depressed and anxious to even go outside. I stay in months at a time. I would have rather died. I’m basically dead anyway. Life for me sucks so bad. I’m afraid to work embarrassed by the medical smell and of course other smells. I suffer from severe depression GAD PTSD and bipolar and to be honest I feel my Dr missed the agoraphobia. I inquired with an advocate to apply for SSI for everything. My stoma is so prolapsed it sticks out very noticeably. I just want it all to end.
    Praying for all of you. God bless

  13. damien healy
    damien healy says:

    i recently had my anus, rectum and sigmoid colon removed. i think if anybody has any organs removed they should be classified as disabled, none of us want payouts from social security, we just want acknowledgement from the various bodies. i going back to work in two weeks, but im not going into the office as i will work from home. but as far as my job is concerned, im disabled period, for the rest of my life, but still able to do my job remotely.

  14. james duff
    james duff says:

    39 had a total colectomy and partial ileectomy do to crohn’s complications and have several other complications as a byproduct. im single and have come to terms that i will remain so. The 1 page living with a ostomy guide that they gave me when i woke up should be an encyclopedia instead. Fill (my stoma) impacts every aspect of my life. fill has been messing with my life for 1.5 years now. for new patients this may sound crazy but it keeps me sane-ish. naming my stoma helped me tremendously emotionally. when i wake up sometimes in the night covered with filth, at work and start leaking, or want to do something spontaneous and realize im running low on equipment. it gives me something other than myself to curse at instead of internalizing it and going to those dark places in my mind. remember you have very little control of what your stoma does and when it does what. compartmentalizing helped me a lot. i went from a walking ball of rage and self loathing to being me again +1 of coarse. im not saying there arnt bad days today i was an hour late for work as i was getting into my truck my seal blew out. then i do deal with that. My new manager doesn’t understand and doesn’t seem to care to. tomorrow is a new day.

    • Shawn Hedrick
      Shawn Hedrick says:

      Hello there James. I had rectal and colon cancer 2 years ago. I went through the chemo and radiation therapy and I am now cancer free. I did have to have a portion of my small intestine removed and I now have an ileostomy. I am having it reversed on Tuesday August 8th. I am so happy that it was only temporary, however I did also name mine. I named it Homie Stomie. He is very active and very unpredictable. I love your post and really wanted to say THANK YOU for making me laugh a little. I thought I was the only person who named mine. Good luck to you and I’ll be praying for you. Sh


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