Improving Access for Service Animal Users through Stakeholder Deliberative Dialogues

Publication Information
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A service animal is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice in its ADA regulations as any dog that is trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the person with the disability. The service animal must be allowed to accompany the person in all areas that members of the public are allowed to go, and the public entity or public accommodation cannot require the person to pay a surcharge for the animal. Despite these requirements, the Southwest ADA Center (SWADA) and the ADA National Network regularly receive complaints from service animal users about their treatment and inquiries from businesses about whether the animal should be allowed on the premises. 

In order to gain a better understanding of these issues, SWADA developed and disseminated a survey to people with disabilities about their service animal and their experiences accessing public places. SWADA then convened a group of service animal users and representatives from these key service industries to engage in deliberative dialogues. Deliberative dialogues are a form of civic engagement in which key stakeholders from various backgrounds come together to solve problems openly and develop action plans to make changes on a critical issue. SWADA engaged the stakeholders to: 1) identify service animal-related barriers from the survey results and the stakeholders’ experiences, 2) identify concerns from the represented industries, and 3) develop solutions to the identified barriers.

General Barriers Identified:

  • An explosion of fraudulent animals. People bring their pets to establishments and call them their service animals. Non-service animal owners are also buying fake certificates, tags, and handles to put on their pets to trick establishments into believing that their pets are service animals.
  • Service animal owners are concerned about non-trained dogs (pets) causing danger to their trained service animals. Non-trained dogs/pets can sometimes provoke the service animals.
  • Individuals and industries not understanding rules and regulations regarding service animals. Industries, business owners, and employees do not know much about the Do’s and Don’ts in regards to service animal policies.
  • A majority of industries, business owners, and employees do not know how to identify service animals as opposed to pets. They feel that the two questions that they are allowed to ask are not sufficient to properly identify a service animal and leave some ambiguity as to whether or not the animal should be permitted.

Recommendations (high priority):

  1. The ADA will need to be revised to address the issue of people misrepresenting their pets as service animals.
  2. There should be a certification or accreditation process to confirm the training of the animal.
  3. There should be a process that entities can use to verify that the animal is a service animal.
  4. Trainers should be licensed by the state or federal government to train or accredit service animals. 

To read the full report, please click on the following attached PDF link:

PDF icon Full report of the stakeholders group305.52 KB