Federal Law is on Your Side
Click here to view the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Do You Have A Disability?
There are millions of people in the USA who have some type of physical, mental, or emotional disability, even though their disability isn't obvious, visible, or even documented. They are young and old; rich and poor; and are of all races and religions.
Many already have service dogs or other animals trained to assist them with important daily tasks and many more are discovering the need for an assistance animal. Unfortunately, not everyone knows that broad federal law exists to protect them and their service animal from discrimination. This law is known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What Is a Service Animal?
According to the ADA, service animals are animals that are individually trained to provide assistance and perform a significant life tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who have hearing problems, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. These Service animals are considered working animals - not pets, although your pet can be certified as a service animal. Service animals may be trained by a professional trainer or trained by the animal's owner.
Because You Have Some Type of Disability
If you are disabled (see sample list of disabilities), and have an NSAR certified "working" service animal, by law you are allowed to go into any business with your service animal wherever the public is allowed to go. And although Emotional Support Animals (ESA) or Psychiatric Service Animals (PSA) are treated somewhat differently than working service animals (they currently have limited protection under federal law), by law, 1) your ESA must be allowed to fly with you on airlines and 2) you can qualify for no pet or limited pet housing. Persons who have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) will often be asked by the public to produce a letter from a licensed mental health professional prescribing an ESA. Click here for more information about a letter of prescription.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) & Psychiatric Service Animals (PSAs)
95% of the time, if your ESA is wearing service animal patches and the NSAR photo ID cards, public places will not confront you, but automatically recognize and accept your ESA as a service animal, despite their limited protection under federal law. That means you can take your ESA with you into public places almost all the time with no hassle. If, however, an employee (pet police) asks you about your "service animal," discovers it is an ESA, and knows the law (very rare), they can rightfully deny your ESA entrance. Having a letter from your licensed mental health professional prescribing an ESA will often pave the way for your entrance even in these cases.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law also overrides state, county, and city laws when there is a conflict and always favors the disabled person. The ADA applies to all businesses open to the public, including:
Here’s What Businesses Are Required To Do
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, although businesses may ask if your animal is a service animal or ask what task(s) the animal has been trained to perform, they cannot ask about your disability. Nor can they ask you for documentation or ID that shows that you are disabled or that the dog is a trained service animal.
People with disabilities assisted by service animals cannot be charged extra fees. In the case of a hotel or motel that does not allow animals, they must admit you and your service animal. In addition, the hotel or motel can’t charge a “pet fee” for your service animal. The only exception to this rule is if a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage caused, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
When visiting a restaurant, the restaurant must allow your service animal to accompany you. The law clearly states that they must not isolate you from other patrons or treat you less favorably than other patrons.
Consequences for Businesses That Violate the ADA
Businesses that violate the rules of the ADA can be required to pay monetary damages and penalties. There are have been a number of business who have not fully understood that discriminating against a service animal is the same as discriminating against the disabled and have denied access to their business by the service animal. The U.S. Justice department has sued these businesses on the behalf of the disabled, requiring them to pay monetary damages, modify practices as they relate to service animals, and retrain staff.
A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove their service animal from the premises unless:
- 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
- The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.