So-called “seeing eye” dogs have been in use in the United States since the late 1920s, but it wasn’t until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act that people with disabilities and their service animals were given the right to equal access, nationwide.
The ADA defines a service as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability,” and they have the right, with very few exceptions, to be wherever their handler wants to go. (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities)
While probably the most commonly recognized service animals are used by folks who are blind, people with other disabilities can use individually trained animals as well. The following are just a few examples of how service animals assist people with disabilities:
- If a person uses a wheelchair, walker or other mobility device, a trained service animal can: Retrieve objects out of reach, open & close doors, and push buttons or flip switches.
- People that are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing can be assisted by an animal trained to alert them to sounds.
- Many service animals are trained to alert another person in the event their handler experiences a medical crisis such as heart attack, stroke, seizure, panic/anxiety attack or symptoms of a PTSD episode. Some are even trained to anticipate seizures or diabetic emergency.
Thanks to the ADA, people with disabilities are ensured independence and mobility, through the use of service animals.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: Service Animals are NOT PETS. When a service animal is working, do not pet, handle, or otherwise engage the animal. They are professionals – trained to perform a crucial job – even if it looks to you as if they’re just lying bored on the floor. They need to concentrate on their handler so they can effectively do their job.
FUN FACT: In addition to dogs, miniature horses are approved as service animals in the United States.