Today I am sharing a situation that occurs far too frequently in the hopes that others might learn about, and even advocate for, people with hidden disabilities who rely on animals for assistance. A post this morning on facebook told the story of a service dog trainer boarding a plane with a service dog who was denied entry to the plane with the dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers this eventuality. In spite of having been in contact with the airline earlier about this particular flight, an employee took it upon himself to challenge and harass the trainer (himself a disabled person) in front of other crew members and passengers. For an individual with PTSD, this is the kind of stressful situation that aggravates the vulnerabilities of the person living with the disorder and magnifies its impact. After a great deal of wrangling and some phone calls the trainer and dog were allowed to board the plane.
The poster of this story on facebook asked that the post be shared, to use it as an illustration of how not to treat people with service dogs--an object lesson of sorts. Unfortunately, too many comments on the post seized the opportunity to condemn the employee as well as the airline, leaping to all manner of conclusions. I am opting to share the story this way, without judgment, as way to affirm the law and inform people within my "sphere" as a way to get the word out. (The photo included here is not of the man and dog involved in the situation I am sharing--it is of another soldier and his service dog, trained through K9s for Warriors. )
I rarely see service dogs in public (probably because I don't get out much!), but should a situation like the one described above ever arise I would feel more than comfortable stepping in to advocate for the rights of those being denied. I leave it to you how you might be part of shaping good outcomes for all persons with disabilities who deserve our support. Consider this my personal plea to be part of the solution. And thank you.
If you're interested in reading what the law itself says, you can read relevant portions below from the Department of Justice's web site:
Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.
Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.
- When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
- Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
- A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.
- Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
- People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
- If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
- Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.