It’s the Law. Establishments that serve the public cannot deny access to disabled persons and their assistance animals. And yet there is still discrimination dished out to people with service animals.
There are all sorts of service dogs, not just for the blind but for children with autism, people with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and wheelchair bound individuals. There are hearing assistance dogs, dogs that detect sugar levels for diabetics, epilepsy – and the list is long. People who cannot get around daily activities or work depend on their assistance dogs. Many are met with resistance and discrimination. But lets be clear on this, denying a disabled person and their assistance dog service is illegal and violates the rights of disabled people.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), a dog is considered a “service dog” if it has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Also according to the ADA, a ‘disability’ is a “mental or physical condition which substantially limits a major life activity”.
Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered ‘pets’.
There are both State and Federal laws that require access for service dogs into any business or facility where their owners can go. Whatever law is the strongest is the law establishments must obey. The law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos. The law does provide exemption for some medical treatment areas such as surgical suites.
According to the ADA:
- Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person’s disability.
- People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. However, if a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
- A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. In these cases, the business should give the person with the disability the option to obtain goods and services without having the animal on the premises.
- Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
- A business is not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself.
- Allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals.
- Violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and penalties.
A good resource for these laws can be found here at the IAADP International Association of Assistance Dog Partners website.
Blame it on ignorance, but ignorance of the law has never been an acceptable defense. Nor is the overused excuse of allergies and fear of dogs. And forget religious reasons, that doesn’t fly either. Establishments can be fined and sued. Education is the key but there doesn’t seem to be any effective education as seen by the following:
In 2006, the Naperville, Illinois, telemarketing company, Americall, paid $200,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged in its lawsuit that the Americall Group violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to hire a qualified applicant because she was blind and used a guide dog.
Last year, the government sued Ronald A. Lucas, a St. Helens, Oregon landlord to ensure compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act after Lucas denied tenant Marilyn Dirks’ request to own a dog to improve symptoms of her mental disabilities. Ronald Lucas must attend training to keep him up-to-date on the law regarding assistance dogs, and create a policy that shows he adheres to the Fair Housing Act. The federal law requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations to people not only for physical disabilities, such as blindness, but for mental problems. Marilyn Dirks, Ronald Lucas and their lawyers came to a separate settlement to resolve monetary damages, the terms of which were kept confidential.
Estelle Stamm, who is 65 and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, won $10,000 from New York City after two cops gave her a ticket for bringing her service dog into a subway station. The cops thought the 120 pound dog was just too big. Now she’s going after NYC Transit for $10 million in a federal lawsuit. NYC Transit contends that Estelle Stamm, having PTSD and partial hearing loss is not really disabled.
Just recently, Luis Carlos Montalvan, the disabled veteran who inspired Senator Al Franken’s Service Dog Program for disabled vets, is suing McDonald’s for $10 million after allegedly being harassed, beaten, and told that he couldn’t take his service dog inside a fast food restaurant in New York City.
Hard education is what you get when disabled people fight back for their rights to be admitted with their service dogs. They have the backing of several federal agencies and these agencies can step in with a lawsuit on their behalf. Good luck in fighting them. So, if you want to deny a disabled person and their assistance dog access, better get out your checkbook. It’s gonna cost you.