How To Interact With Someone?
How to Interact With Someone With a Service Animal
There are many different disabilities that may require the use of a service animal. The disability may be visibly obvious or it may be invisible. It is important to keep in mind that service animals are not pets, and that there are specific guidelines for interacting with the animals and their handlers (or owners) in different situations.
Interacting with the Handler
Talk to the handler normally.Service animals accompany people with disabilities and perform some task that aids that person. Disabled people are still ordinary people. Be sure to treat them with the same respect and dignity that you would another person. Say hello and make the same small talk that you would with any other person.
- There's no need to ask about their disability or their service animal. It's often a boring or uncomfortable conversation starter, and they're probably tired of answering the same questions over and over again.
- Basic manners still apply: use your regular volume and tone of voice, assume that they can understand you just fine (even if they don't make eye contact), and follow the same rules of politeness that you do with non-disabled people.
Be sensitive and respect privacy.Talk to the handler and leave the animal alone. Avoid asking personal questions about the service animal, such as its name or breed. You should also keep in mind that this person has a service animal because of a disability, so avoid saying insensitive things like “That dog is really nice. I wish I had a service dog.”
- Many disabled people get lots of intrusive questions from strangers. It will be a relief if you ignore the service animal and focus on the person, or go about your business.
- If you're becoming good friends with someone, and you're unsure whether it's okay to ask, say "May I ask about your service animal?" and respect the person's response.
Know what questions you can legally ask.If a patron, coworker, or employee brings a service animal into your establishment, you might feel the need to ask questions. Keep in mind that medical privacy comes into play when discussing a service animal. While you are not banned entirely from asking questions, there are only two that you are allowed to ask under federal law:
- Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability? (You may not ask what disability.)
- What has the animal been trained to do?
Avoid personal questions unless the handler tells you they're happy to answer.Animals are only considered service animals if they perform a specific task that meets the needs of someone who is disabled in some way. That said, it is impolite, and in some cases illegal, to ask a person with a service animal what their disability is. They have the right to medical privacy just like any other person.
- This includes asking things like “Why do you have a service dog?”
- Some people are comfortable talking about their disabilities, and others are not. If you're friends with someone who has a service animal, follow their lead with regards to their comfort zone. Don't try to force the topic if they aren't ready or comfortable talking about it.
Interacting with the Service Animal
Avoid distracting the service animal.Keep in mind that service animals have a specific job to do, and that their handlers rely on them for safety and protection in public. Feeding, playing with, talking to, or otherwise engaging the animal can be distracting for it. You should avoid distracting the animal in any way unless you have permission from the handler.
- A service animal may wear a patch such as "ask before petting" or "do not distract." If you don't see a patch, play it safe and don't interact.
- If the handler is open to letting you interact with the animal, they will tell you. Some animals, such as emotional support animals, can sometimes interact with you if it's okay with the handler. Other animals, such as seizure alert dogs/ferrets, need to stay focused at all times to keep the handler safe.
Do not ask to interact with the service animal while it is working.A handler may feel pressured to let you distract the animal, even if it is anxiety-inducing or unsafe for the handler. Keep in mind that some handlers have disabilities that cause anxiety or social difficulties, so they may not be able to say "no" to you.
- Making eye contact with the animal could distract it from its work, which could be dangerous to the handler.
- Teach children not to interact with a service animal, because it has to stay focused on its owner.
- If it appears that the handler needs help with the animal, you may offer assistance politely. For example, if the handler cannot access an area where the dog may relieve itself, you could say something like “Would you like me to walk your dog over to the grass?”
Interacting in Places of Public Accommodation
Understand the federal law protecting service animals.Service animals, and their handlers, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under this law, only dogs and miniature horses are considered service animals. The animals are allowed anywhere that the public is allowed, and no proof must be carried to verify the animal’s training or the handler’s disability. The animal cannot be removed or denied access to a public place unless they are disruptive or threaten the safety of other persons.
Allow service animals anywhere that the public is allowed to be.People with disabilities are allowed to enjoy restaurants, stores, parks, and other places that the general public uses. In a place of business, a service animal has the right to go anywhere that the public is allowed to go.
- For example, a service animal must be allowed to sit with its handler at a restaurant table. But it is not supposed to go into a sanitary restaurant kitchen, because the public is not allowed in the kitchen.
Avoid the urge to ask for certifications.It is easy to assume that you can request verification of the medical need for a service animal, or that the animal has been trained. However, the truth is that you cannot ask for this under federal law, and no one is ever obligated to provide it to you.
- Even if there is a certificate, the person may not want to carry it around every single time they go out in public.
- In fact, the ADA specifically says that service animals don't need any specific certification or training, nor do they have to wear an identifying vest or harness when in public. A person can train their own service animal, as long as the person has a disability and the animal is trained to do a specific task or set of tasks to help that person with their disability.
Know that service animals are allowed on public transportation.The ADA requires that public transportation systems allow service animals to travel with their handlers. This includes airlines. The animal will often lay at the handler’s feet, or remain in the handler’s lap. For larger animals, there is sometimes an option of riding in a cargo hold.
- You cannot charge extra fees or a higher rate as a result of the service animal. Deposits or surcharges cannot be forced upon the handler, even if this is the policy with pets.
- You can require the handler to pay for damages caused by the animal, as long as your policies require other pet owners to pay for damages caused by their pet.
Understand that service animals are not to be rejected from hotels.Whether you are a patron or an employee of a hotel, you should know that regardless of the hotel’s stance on pets, they cannot reject a service animal and/or its handler.
- Hotels may not charge any additional fees or higher rates as a result of the service animal. Even if you normally allow pets for an additional charge, you still may not charge for service animals.Service animals are not pets.
- Understand that not all disabilities are visible and that service dogs can help with many things. Not all service animals are guide dogs for the blind – in fact, they can do medical alert (for seizures, diabetes, panic attacks, etc.), mobility, guide work, and many other things-- they even have service dogs for autism.
- Teach children to respect a service animal's space, and only pet if they have permission. Explain that the animal might be busy keeping the handler safe, and if so, it should not be distracted.
- Recognize that all types of animals can be service animals. While dogs are most common, cats, birds, miniature horses, and other animals can be trained to be service animals. Don't assume that someone is "faking it" because you don't understand their service animal.
- If the animal is making noise, it may not be misbehaving. Make sure the handler is okay before passing judgement; they may be in need of assistance, the dog could be alerting to a pending medical condition, or many other different things.
- Be polite to the handler and the animal.
- Remain considerate of the work that the animal is doing.
- Respect emotional support animals. These types of service animals provide support that may be the only reason that the handler can go outside, hold a conversation, or attend school or work.
- You may be arrested for failure to comply with federal regulations if you violate the rights of as service animal or handler.
- Distracting a service animal could be dangerous to its handler. For example, if you distract a seizure alert dog or ferret, the handler could be injured or killed because of a seizure. Never distract a service animal unless the handler gives you clear permission.
- While service animals are not typically aggressive, you should always refrain from startling an animal.
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