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  • Jillian R.

Disability Etiquette: Service Animals

Service animals are trained to work or perform a specific task to aid someone with a disability. The aide that a service animal provides is curated to fit the needs of the individual’s disability. Examples of this vary from person to person and are an ever-growing list. To list a few:

  • Assisting individuals with blindness or low vision navigate the world around them

  • Alerting an individual with diabetes of a spike or drop in blood sugar

  • Detecting and alerting an individual of an allergen in their meal

  • Assisting during a seizure for a person with epilepsy

  • Providing support and stability for individuals with mobility issues

  • Retrieving items such as medication, mobility aides, or a phone

  • Detecting if a person is there or not for individuals who experience psychiatric visions

Animals that provide companionship or emotional support are not considered service animals under ADA guidelines.

The ADA recognizes service animals as “..any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Miniature horses are also acceptable service animals if they have been trained in a specific task or work for an individual with a disability. 

Service Animals may or may not be wearing a vest identifying them as service animals. It is also important to note that just because an animal has a patch, ID tag, or vest saying they are a service animal, does not mean they are a service animal. 

When service animals are with an individual with a disability they are working. Working service animals are not to be distracted at the risk of failing to complete their trained task or service. This may put the individual with a disability at risk of harm. 

The proper etiquette for interacting with a service animal is to either leave them alone or ask their handler if you may interact with them. The handler may decline to give their service animal treats, petting, or anything else that may distract the service animal. The handler may decline to provide the name of the service animal to limit distractions. This is not meant to be offensive but to ensure their service animal can continue working effectively. 

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