Individuals with disabilities who have service dogs should be prepared with knowledge of the law when they enter business establishments. If a dispute occurs over access to the business, then individuals will need to assert their legal rights in a clear and calm manner.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits privately owned businesses that serve the public from discriminating against people with disabilities. These businesses are required to permit access to individuals with disabilities and their service animals. (Note that the ADA does not require churches, private clubs or private homes to permit access to service animals.)
If access is initially denied, the first step is to clearly state that the dog is a service animal and that the Americans with Disabilities Act permits access. Although most people are familiar with guide dogs for the blind, some people may not know about other types of service animals, so a simple statement of the facts and the law may suffice to gain access.
The business is allowed to ask two specific questions: “Is this a service dog required because of a disability?” and “What task is the dog trained to perform?” An individual with a service animal should be prepared to answer these two questions satisfactorily, and be aware that there is no requirement to answer further questions.
Some people with disabilities carry copies of the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA Business Brief on Service Animals with them, for instance in a pocket of the service dog’s vest. The Brief is a simple statement of the law from the federal government that may convince a business employee who is resistant. Individuals with disabilities are not required to carry this notice, or any other permit or license, with them.
If access is ultimately denied, then the individual should comply, but follow up with the business owner to remedy the situation. Reasonable remedies to ask for include training for employees regarding service animal access, or a sign on the door that confirms that service animals are permitted. If a business owner continues to deny access, then a complaint may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
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