What Should You Know?
Service animals perform a wide range of tasks for many individuals with disabilities. However, as we sometimes see in the news, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding what service animals are, what they do, and where they can go.
Different Laws Define Service Animals Differently
In general, service animals are trained to perform a specific task for an individual and must be under control and housebroken. Since service animals are trained to perform a task, they are different from emotional support or therapy animals, which are simply tasked, for example, with keeping a person calm, but don’t perform a specific task. Emotional support animals may be permitted in certain circumstances however. It’s important that covered entities understand their obligations.
State and local Government Programs and Places of Public Accommodation
- Most of the environments with which we interact every day, (e.g. stores, gyms, movie theaters, hospitals etc.) are subject to the requirements and Design Standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) The ADA defines service animal only as a dog specifically trained to perform a task to assist someone with a disability. Miniature horses may also allowed as service animals and covered entities are required to make reasonable accommodations for them Under the ADA, dogs that simply provide emotional support or comfort are not considered service animals and can be excluded from public places. Service animals must perform a task for an individual with a disability. As with any of the accessibility laws, service animals are permitted even if there is a no-pets policy.
- It’s important to note that in addition to federal accessibility law, States may also have their own laws about service animals in public spaces. Many are aligned with the requirements of the ADA but some differ. For example, under the ADA animals in training are not considered service animals, but some States have passed laws allowing animals in training in places of public accommodation. In these cases, the law that provides greater access should be followed.
- The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public housing. Housing is, of course, a fundamentally different environment than public spaces, if for no other reason than it’s where a person lives. The Fair Housing Act has a more expansive definition of service animals in that it does allow for comfort or emotional support dogs. While the prohibition against asking about the nature of a person’s disability still applies under FHA, a landlord or homeowners association may ask for written certification that the individual seeking housing or their family member is a person with a disability who uses a service animal to assist them because of a disability.
Primary and Secondary
- The ADA may apply to some portions of school that are open to the public, but typically the laws that govern whether or not a student may have a service animal with them during the school day are the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The IDEA requires the development of an Individualized Education Program and Section 504 requires the development of a 504 plan. In either of these plans, the team developing them may decide it is appropriate for a service animal to accompany a student throughout the day.
- When it’s time to transition to college or technical schools, it’s mainly the requirements of the ADA that guarantee access for those with service animals. Students who use service animals have the right to access any space on campus that is open to the public or to students. Students may not be asked for any proof that their animal is a service animal but may be asked to register with their campus disability services office.
- Health care providers must provide equal access to those with service animals. A typical concern of medical or dental facilities is maintaining a clean or sterile field. If there is a legitimate, objective concern about having a service animal in a particular part of a health care facility, staff may ask to separate the service animal from their handler. In these cases, staff should find a space for the service animal to wait and then provide assistance to the individual (e.g. staff can be a sighted guide for a patient with vision loss who is separated from their service animal during a procedure.)
Public Transit and Other Transportation Services
- Any ground transportation service that is open to the public is subject to the requirements of the ADA and must allow individuals with service animals. A person with a service animal cannot be charged extra or be asked to sit in a particular spot. A service animal may not be excluded because of a driver’s allergy.
- Ride-sharing services must also comply with applicable federal accessibility law. Typically this is Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Drivers of ride-sharing services may not refuse rides to customers with service animals. A dog allergy, religious beliefs, or fear of dogs are not reasons for denying service to a customer with a service animal. Typically allergies to dogs are not severe enough unless a person comes in direct contact with the animal. If however the allergy is severe enough, the ride-sharing service must provide alternative transportation. While the resources available from federal agencies are always the best source of information, ridesharing companies often have developed their own policies regarding customers with service animals. Uber and Lyft, arguably the two leaders in the industry have well established policies and grievance procedures related to service animals.
- Accessibility at Uber: Service Animal Policy (U.S.)
- Lyft Service Animal Policy: Riders with Service Animals
- One of the lesser-known accessibility laws is the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. This law sets forth requirements that airlines must follow to provide access to travelers with disabilities. Much like in housing, the rules and definition for service animals differ here. Under the ACAA, emotional support animals or comfort animals are allowed on board aircraft. If airline personnel are uncertain if an animal is allowed, they may ask one of the following questions to determine if an animal is a service animal:
- What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?
- What has your animal been trained to do for you?
- Would you describe how the animal performs this task for you?
The ACAA is also unique in that it does allow animals other than dogs or miniature horses. Airlines though must decide whether or not an animal (e.g. a pig or monkey) would pose a danger to others on the aircraft or if allowing the animal fundamentally alters their services. While animals in-training are not service animals under the ACAA, airlines may, as a matter of company policy, to allow a qualified trainer to bring an animal on board.
The above was primarily sourced from:
Brennan, J & Nguyen, V. (Ed.) “Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
Where are they allowed and under what conditions?” Southwest ADA Center, A program of ILRU at TIRR Memorial Hermann. Online: https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet