Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fido and Americans with Disabilities Act

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fido and Americans with Disabilities Act

Article excerpt


I was having Sunday breakfast at First Watch when the hostess led a couple to an adjacent table. The couple had a small, white, fluffy dog with them. I asked about the dog's breed and the woman mentioned that it was a Shih-Poo service dog for the gentleman.

This cute dog was well-behaved and my attention soon wandered back to my breakfast, conversation and reading the Sunday paper (the Herald-Tribune, of course).

After later discussions with my editor, I decided to research the Americans with Disabilities Act to learn more about this 25-year- old law. What does a small-business owner need to know about compliance, and what are the fines for failure to comply? And what did the regulations say about service animals in restaurants?

Background of the ADA

For many years, people with disabilities were discriminated against. They were prohibited from attending schools, denied employment and forced to live in institutions.

ADA involves several government agencies, depending on what is needed to accommodate them. For example: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has oversight on employment issues; the Department of Transportation is responsible for transportation issues; the The Federal Communications Commission for telecommunication issues; and the Department of Justice for public accommodations and state and local government services.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against a "qualified person with a disability." The term "disability" means, "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

Service animals

According to Suzy Wilburn, director of Admissions and Graduate Services at Southeastern Guide Dogs, here are some of the ADA do's and don't's for businesses and service dogs.

"Businesses are often confused about how they should act when a person appears with a service dog," Wilburn said in a speech at the Venice Lions Club. "The ADA law allows a business to ask if the animal is required for that person's disability and what specific tasks the animal has been trained to do."

Wilburn warned that asking for medical documentation, special ID cards, training documentation or demonstration of the task are forbidden and may be subject to a fine of up to $50,000. Furthermore, businesses have a challenge as not all disabled people who own dogs have visible disabilities, and not all dogs are service animals.

For example, emotional-support animals are not considered service animals and are not protected under the ADA. However, dogs that help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder are protected by the law. …

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