As CEO of an organization that advocates for and works with people with disabilities on a daily basis, I believe that the new service animal law makes progress in protecting the rights of people with disabilities.
Businesses have an opportunity to create safer environments for all parties, now that a new Colorado law passed deters false service animals.
Misrepresenting your ordinary animal as a service animal is, in essence, stealing another person’s benefits and rights. “It’s comparable to parking in an accessible parking spot or buying a fake disability placard because it’s more convenient for you, when there is someone else who legitimately needs that spot,” says Paul O’Brien, Director of the Colorado Satellite of Canine Companions for Independence.
Some people who bring fake service animals in public are fraudulently claiming to have disabilities, while others may just be unclear about the legal difference between service animals and emotional support animals.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse that is specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Emotional support animals (also called companion animals) provide companionship and help relieve depression, anxiety, or phobias, but they do not have special training to perform tasks. As a result, under the new law, people who have disabilities and rely on emotional support animal can be assessed fines when falsely claiming their animal as a service animal.
Untrained animals can be disruptive to businesses and have even been known to attack legitimate service animals.
Local businesses can create a welcoming environment for all parties by taking a few simple actions. Post service animal signage on outer doors, keep animal guidelines easily available, and train staff to know the two questions they can legally ask someone with an animal: 1) Is this service dog required because of a disability? 2) What task has the animal been trained to perform?
With a little knowledge and understanding, everyone can help to make the world a more accessible place for people with disabilities.
For more information about service animals, visit our service animals information page at http://bit.ly/ServiceAnimal or contact The Independence Center at 719-471-8181.