In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outlined many barriers that people with disabilities face. More improvements to the AODA would help to remove existing barriers and prevent future ones. Therefore, in addition to direct recommendations, Onley’s review also includes suggestions from attendees about how to remove these barriers. This article will explore disability barriers for service animals and their handlers.
Disability Barriers for Service Animal Handlers
Under the Customer Service Standards, all service providers that operate premises open to the public, or to third parties that serve the public, must welcome service animals. They must allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go, except in places where the law excludes service animals.
However, review attendees who use service animals report that many venues disobey the Standard. For instance, attendees report that when they travel with service animals, workers refuse to allow them into:
Though most service animals are dogs, many other animals can be trained to perform tasks for their handlers. However, some provinces recognize only dogs as possible service animals. Therefore, attendees at Onley’s review meetings state that Ontario should avoid creating similar laws that exclude people with other types of service animals.
Service animals and support animals
Service animals have training to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. In contrast, emotional support animals provide comfort and security. However, they do not have training for specific tasks. Therefore, emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals under the AODA. Service providers are not required to allow support animals on their premises.
Currently, service providers can tell whether or not a customer’s animal is a service animal in two ways:
- It is visibly apparent that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to disability; or
- the customer provides an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability
Providers may ask for proof that a customer’s animal is a service animal, unless it is visibly obvious that the person has a disability and is relying on the animal. For instance, if a dog is clearly guiding a customer who is blind, providers should know without asking that this animal is a guide dog.
However, meeting attendees report that people can easily pretend that their pets are service animals or support animals. For example, pet owners can order pretend service animal harnesses and certificates online. As a result, staff at venues may allow pets posing as service animals to enter their venues. When these pets misbehave, staff may later assume that a real service animal is fake, and decide to exclude the animal and its handler.
Our next article will outline review attendees’ suggestions to prevent barriers for service animals and their handlers.