In Ontario there is a regulation called the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service. One of the requirements of this regulation is that persons with disabilities are allowed to enter your organization’s public premises with a service animal. A person should be able to remain with the animal unless otherwise excluded by law. If the animal is excluded by law, you must have another measure available to enable the person to obtain, use or benefit from your organization’s goods or services. Note, a service animal is not a pet; he or she is a working animal and must not be excluded under your no-pets policy.
Service animals are used by people with many different kinds of disabilities. Examples of service animals include dogs used by people who are Blind, hearing alert animals for people who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, and animals trained to alert an individual to an oncoming seizure and lead them to safety. Believe it or not, you might see a bird, cat or other trained animals. These animals provide services to individuals helping them function with greater self-sufficiency; prevent injuries; and summon help in a crisis.
A service animal is specially trained to assist an individual with disabilities. If you can identify that the service animal is used by a person with a disability for reasons relating to a disability, in Ontario, the person cannot be asked to prove the animal is working. If it is not readily apparent that the animal is a service animal, then the Ontario regulation states that a letter may be requested from a physician or nurse practitioner confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability. Under no circumstances is the service provider allowed to ask about the nature of the disability.
Note that doctors and nurse practitioners do not use standardized letterhead, and you might have difficulty confirming a letter is real. Please note that people with disabilities may not be aware of the need for the letter. You may want to allow the person to enter your premises with a polite request to bring a letter the next time. In any case, the animal must be trained and under control of the person with a disability.
If there are any areas of your premises that are open to the public where animals are excluded by law they should be identified. You will need a solution so you have other measures to provide service to the person with a disability. You can decide to have your transactions take place in a separate area. You may provide a secure area to leave the animal, if the customer is comfortable doing so. In the latter case, you will have to provide support for the person who requires assistance.
Other situations may arise where there are health and safety reasons of another person by the presence of a service animal on premises open to the public, such as people with allergies to animals. Some of the options to consider may be creating distance between two individuals, eliminating in-person contact, changing the time the two receive service, and any other measures that would allow the person to use their service animal on the premises. The organization must consider all relevant factors and options in trying to find a solution that meets the needs of both individuals.
Customers might bring their household pet with the knowledge that it is difficult for you to identify a service animal. You should acknowledge this possibility in your policy. You may decide to allow on your premises any animal that is well-behaved. A detailed policy, practice and procedure will provide these rules and remedies. Below are some questions to consider when preparing your protocols:
- If staff cannot recognize the animal as working, do you want them to ask for a letter? Do you want to offer one visit with grace if the letter is not produced?
- Do you want to allow people to enter with an animal and presume they are service animals?
- Where an animal is excluded by law from your premises, you must still take steps to make sure that you can provide your goods or services to the person with a disability.
- Think of examples where conflict might occur between customers and staff who have different disabilities. Use examples in your training to help staff respond and serve customers appropriately.
Take the time necessary to make quality decisions on this topic. For international readers, your country may already have a similar law. In the global endeavour to remove barriers for people with disabilities, numerous other countries are moving forward with a comparable approach.
Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services