The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

There are four major federal laws that impact disabled Americans and service dogs. Those four laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Each law provides different protections and clarifications on the rights of businesses and disabled individuals. If you have a service dog, or you are considering getting one, it’s critical that you are familiar with these laws.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. It was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and aimed to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s disabilities. The ADA required employers to provide reasonable accommodations and outlined accessibility rules for public entities and public transportation.

What I’ll be discussing specifically is the legal protection and rights the ADA provided for both service dog handlers as well as businesses. I recommend all service dog handlers have ADA cards that they keep with them, and I encourage them to have the ADA’s website bookmarked on their phone. It’s important to be able to have this information available should you encounter an access issue.

The first thing to understand is who qualifies for a service dog. In order to have a service dog the handler must be disabled and the dog must be trained in a task or tasks or to do work that mitigates that disability. It’s important to note that a dog only needs to be trained in one task or one form of work. If you have questions about if you qualify for a service dog this article may be helpful.

Listed below I go over some questions that are very common regarding the ADA. Familiarizing yourself with the answers can be really helpful incase you ever find yourself having access issues or needing to educate someone.

Where can your service dog go?

Service dogs can accompany their handlers most places. Businesses that are open to the public must allow service dogs onto their premises as well as state and local government buildings. Federal buildings are not covered under the ADA but service dogs are given access under the Rehabilitation Act.

Businesses can ask for the dog to be removed if it urinates or defecates, if it’s not under the control of it’s handler, if the dog is growling or barking, or if the dog is behaving aggressively.

Who can deny access to service dogs?

Private dwellings are not covered under the ADA. So if you are going to a friend or relatives home they are not under any legal obligation to allow you to bring your service dog.

Churches, private clubs, and businesses where a service dog would alter the nature of the business can also turn away service dogs.

What does it mean to alter the nature of a business? The ADA has a section that goes over frequently asked questions about service animals and it gives this example, “At a zoo, service animals can be restricted from areas where the animals on display are the natural prey or natural predators of dogs, where the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the displayed animals to behave aggressively or become agitated.  They cannot be restricted from other areas of the zoo.”

The ADA also doesn’t grant automatic access for employees. If you want to bring your service dog to work with you then you will need to apply for a reasonable accommodation. If you have questions about how to do that, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an excellent resource!

Does the ADA cover service dogs in training?

No, the ADA does not cover service dogs in training. However, some states have laws that grant service dogs in training public access rights. Michigan State University put together an excellent table of state laws regarding service animals.

What questions can a business legally ask me about my service dog?

Businesses can ask two questions if it’s not readily apparent that a dog is a service dog. First, they can ask if the dog is a service animal required because of a disability. Second, they can ask what work or tasks the dog has been trained to perform.

Businesses are not allowed to request any form of documentation. They cannot require that the dog perform a task in order to gain entry into the establishment. They also cannot ask about the nature of the person’s disability.

Do service dogs need to have any form of certification and do they have to be trained by a professional?

No, service dogs can be owner trained as long as the owner is disabled and the dog is trained to perform tasks or work that mitigates their disability.

There is no certification that is recognized by the ADA as proof that a dog is a service dog. Some programs give out certifications when dogs graduate, and there are many online scams that give out certifications, but neither incurs any additional legal protection.

Are emotional support animals or therapy dogs covered under the ADA?

No, the ADA only covers service animals. Emotional support animals used to be covered under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) but that’s no longer the case. The only federal law that impacts emotional support animals is the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Psychiatric Service Dog Partners has an excellent flowchart that explains what exemptions exist within the FHA.

Does the ADA cover hotel rooms?

Yes, hotels must accommodate service dogs and they cannot charge a cleaning or pet fee of any kind. They also cannot restrict handlers to “pet friendly” rooms.

Does the ADA cover hospitals?

Yes, service dogs are allowed anywhere that the public is allowed, including in patients’ rooms. The only place service dogs may be restricted from would be sterile environments like an operating room.

While in the hospital you would need to have someone who could assist you in taking the dog out and caring for the dog while you are recovering. Medical personnel cannot be expected to do this for you.

Resources & References

Featured image by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

6 Comments on “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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