What to do when confronted out in public about access

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Every assistance dog team will be confronted at one time or another when trying to enter a public place. Many of these confrontations are minor, some are more confrontational, and a few will be the business flatly denying you access. It is my hope that this page will help you minimize ALL types of confrontations, and to have the resources available to gain access to ANY business, whether they want you there or not.

Yes, I said, whether they want you there or not. A friend of mine, who runs an organization that educates about service animals gets many calls from businesses trying to find out how to keep out assistance dogs. Yes, that's right, owners are trying to figure out a way to keep you out of their businesses. The law IS on your side, you have the right to be accompanied by your assistance animal, whereever you go. Many business owners, however, are ignorant to the fact that the law allows you to have your dog with you. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but with the right tools, you can almost be guaranteed access.

Things To Do

1) Dress your dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says that you do not need to dress your dog, and that's all well and good, but dressing your dog in a vest, harness or backpack, makes your dog look different than just someone's pet.

Dress your dog according to your disability. If you have a hearing dog, put your dog in an orange vest. If you have a seizure disorder, dress your dog in a vest or backpacks. If you use a wheelchair, you may want to use a harness or backpacks.

2) Walk into the business like you belong there.

If you walk into a public place, with your head held high, and with the expectation that you will NOT be stopped, most likely, you will not be bothered. This isn't an absolute rule, because I've gotten stopped even though I walk into places expecting NOT to get stopped.

3) When told, "No Dogs allowed!", answer with "This is my Assistance Dog."

Many people do not understand what a "Service Dog" is, so while the term "service dog" is what is written in the law, "assistance dog" is much more descriptive.

4) Only two questions may be asked.

Only two questions may be asked of you. "Are you disabled?" Answer yes, and do NOT be any more specific. The person asking does not have the right to any other answer than that. You do not have to disclose your disability. "Is that a Service Dog?" OR "Is that an Assistance Dog?" Once the business has been informed that you are disabled, and that your dog is an Assistance Dog, they should leave you alone! If not, politely tell them so. You do not have to answer any more questions.

5) Carry the ADA (just the service dog part), and your state laws with you.

If you are confronted, and the person will not allow you access, even after you've explained your dog is an assistance dog, show them the law. Most of the time, this will be enough to allow you access.

6) Call the police.

If the business still refuses access, call the police. Show the law to the police and demand that you be let in. Don't ask, demand. It is your right to be allowed into any public business, with your Assistance Dog. And it's the police officer's DUTY to enforce all the laws, and uphold your rights.

Things You You Should Not Do

There are several things that you can do that may make your access into a public place easier, but will cause problems for any teams that come behind you. Please do NOT do these things unless you explain that YOU are doing them, because you WANT to, and that the next team does not have to do so.

Even so, many business owners and employees will expect the teams that follow you to do exactly what you did, no matter what you tell them. It's better to NOT do the things below, for all of us.

1) Show ID

By showing ID, you are giving the business the idea that ID is required, when it is not. Showing ID makes it impossible for the person with NO ID (because they are training their own dog), to gain access.

2) Stop at customer service and tell them you're bringing an assistance dog in.

You are giving the business the idea that they have the right to expect every Assistance Dog team to stop at customer service to let them know they are in the building. The business doesn't require this of someone who is black, or who wears glasses, or who uses a wheelchair.

3) Showing papers documenting your disability.

It's no one's business but your own that you are disabled, and the law states you do not have to show documentation or certification to be allowed into public places.

If you use the above link, take out the -REMOVE in the email address.

*Copyright © 1998-2007 Dana L. Marshall
*All Rights Reserved