ADA and Service Dogs
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. It prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy and live a normal life.
In order to be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA “as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment”.
The Department of Justice released a revised set of regulations for service dogs in 2010 with respect to title II (state and local government regulations) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) of the ADA. These regulations address the rights of service dog handlers in almost all public areas. There are also other laws that are applicable in specific situations, such as the Air Carrier Access Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
A service dog is specifically task-trained to help an individual with a disability that substantially limits one or more life activities. Disabilities may include visual difficulties, hearing impairments, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and much more. A task is a certain desired behavior or set of behaviors the dog is trained to habitually perform in response to a command or a particular situation such as the onset of a seizure, which cues the dog to perform a task. The task must be related to an individuals’ disabling condition which will help them in some way. For example, for a person who is suffering from PTSD, a service dog is trained to never leave their handler’s side.
When the dog is deliberately taught to exhibit the desired behavior or sequence of behaviors by rewarding the dog for the right response(s) and communicating, if only through silence, when the dog has made the wrong response in a particular situation. A task is learned when the dog reliably exhibits the desired behavior whenever needed to assist their partner on command or cue. Service dogs are usually trained by skilled trainers and sometimes come into contact with therapists.