New Service Dog Guidelines from the ADA
Most people are familiar with the term “Service Dog”. Guide Dogs for the Blind are the best-known type of service dog, but service dogs are also trained to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities, including hearing impairments, diabetes, seizure disorders, autism and PTSD.
Dogs can also be trained to assist people with mobility disorders. “Service dog for mobility” or “mobility dog” are dogs trained to help a person walk or balance, to get dressed or undressed, to retrieve/carry objects, to open/close doors, and to pull a wheelchair. At Six-Legs-In-Motion, the focus is on training dogs to assist individuals with progressive physical disabilities, so the term “Service Dog for Mobility” is appropriate. Examples of diseases that limit mobility include Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, spinal cord diseases, Parkinsons Disease, spina bifida, polio, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, demyelinating diseases, brain injuries, and neuropathy.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “individually trained dog, to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”. Disability is defined as “mental or physical condition which substantially limits a major life activity” such as walking, seeing, hearing or performing manual tasks. The dog must be trained to perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability. For example, a dog who is trained to retrieve objects or open doors is not considered a “Service Dog” if the person who owns the dog has a hearing impairment. In addition, a “Service Dog” is only considered a service animal when accompanying the person with disability. A service dog does not have the rights of “Service Dog” when the dog is with someone other than the person who the dog was trained to assist.
Until recently, the ADA rules referred to “Service Animal”, and “Service Dog” was used as a species-specific term. However, in March 2011, the ADA implemented new rules that limit the use of the term “Service Animal” to dogs (and to some miniature horses, in a few rare cases). Since the term “Service Animal” now refers just to dogs, it makes sense to use the term “Service Dog”. Some organizations also use the terms “assistance animal” or “assistance dog”.
The terminology used to label specific types of work dogs has not been standardized. The use of a more precise term than “Service Dog” has been criticized as disclosing the nature of the person’s disability. For example, if the dog is trained to assist someone with a seizure disorder, using a term like “Seizure Disorder Service Dog” announces that the person with the dog has seizures. It is the intent of the law to protect individual privacy and not require people to disclose the nature of their disability.