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Part 1 Series: Ending ignorance about people with disabilities; benefits of service dogs

By Charlotte Smith

Our team at BladenOnline.com have been contacted by several different readers about citizens with disabilities being discriminated against or not having adequate services in the mother county. We are dedicated to helping our communities stay informed and help prevent discrimination of any kind.

Therefore we are starting an educational series on disabled citizens. The first topic we wanted to distribute facts about is the use of service animals and their purpose. In 2011, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stated only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. Service dogs are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, according to Service Dog Registration of America (SDRA), a company dedicated to training and certifying service animals.

These service animals help people with disabilities by performing tasks such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, or calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack. These animals go through rigorous training supplied through SDRA to provide tasks specifically related to their human’s disabilities.

A common misconception is the service animals are pets, but they not pets; they are working animals. Most wear vests warning strangers not to pet them because they are working.

Some folks do not understand etiquette when it comes to service animals and their owners. In addition to the no petting while at work rule, businesses are limited when it comes to the questions they can ask service dog owners.

There are only two questions someone at a place of business may ask a service dog owner. The two questions that are proper to ask are: “Is your dog a service dog?” and “What duties does the dog perform?”

Asking the owner of the service animal what their disabilities are or asking them to leave the place of business because they have a service dog with them may bring legal ramifications. Businesses that do not follow the ADA laws are setting themselves up to a potential lawsuit, according to SDRA.

The only time a disabled person may be asked to leave an establishment is if their service dog is causing a disturbance.  A disturbance would be defined by the service animal barking, growling, being unruly, urinating, defecating or being a nuisance in a place of business. Other than those reasons, the business may not ask a person with a service animal to leave, according to SDRA.

The ADA does not require service dogs to wear any type of clothing, harnesses or identification. However, identification, vests and harnesses are available and provided to service animals and the SDRA strongly encourages the use of such attire on service dogs to save potential headaches in public.

The service animals may be of any size or breed. The ADA prohibits any discrimination so the size or breed of the service dog means nothing. Airlines are required to allow service dogs to accompany their disabled owners to their seats on the airplane regardless of the animal’s size.

Last but not least, there are also animals with the sole function of providing comfort or emotional support to their humans. These type of animals are known as emotional support animals. However, these animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. To qualify for an emotional support animal a person must have a mental health professional determine that the presence of a dog provides therapeutic value to its owner.

For more information about service animals you may visit the ADA’s website or the SDRA website. Check back with BladenOnline.com for the next issue of Ending ignorance about people with disabilities

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