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Preventing Disability Barriers for Service Animals and their Handlers

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 ways of preventing disability barriers for service animals and their handlers.

Preventing Disability Barriers for Service Animals and their Handlers

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.

Meeting attendees suggest different solutions to this ongoing problem. Some attendees suggest that venues should only allow trained, certified service animals on their premises. Handlers could train their own animals or acquire them through a training program. In either case, a third party or government body could certify the training of every animal. However, a certification process could create new barriers, such as additional costs for handlers. In addition, people determined to pretend that their pets are service animals may forge certificates.

Alternatively, some attendees feel that every handler should carry a letter from a medical professional. When the handler enters a business, staff could request to see the letter before allowing them to enter. However, this process also creates a new barrier. Handlers may need to show their letter to every new staff member they meet. This process could easily lead to discrimination. Furthermore, determined pet pretenders could forge pretend letters.

More Solutions

In contrast, another group of attendees suggests that identification of service animals is not necessary. Since pretenders can forge current forms of identification, medical notes and harnesses no longer guarantee that service providers will treat service animal handlers with dignity. Instead, these attendees suggest that venue staff should accept handlers’ verbal statements that their animals are service animals.

Other attendees suggest that the AODA should include rules about when a business can exclude a misbehaving animal. For example, this changed standard might state:

  • That venues must allow all animals with identification to enter
  • Reasons to evict an animal, such as:
    • Frequent barking
    • Proof of the animal being aggressive, disruptive, or not housebroken

These rules would allow both trained animals and animals in the process of training to enter venues with their handlers. As a result, there would be less discrimination against people relying on real service animals.