Last month, the US Supreme Court sided with the family of Ehlena Fry, stating that the family did not have to go through exhaustive administrative appeals when Ehlena’s school denied her request to bring her service dog, Wonder, into the classroom. Ehlena’s school said her one-on-one school aid was sufficient to meet her needs. The family determined that Wonder was essential to Ehlena’s independence, offering her stability when walking, opening doors and retrieving items for her, even turning on the lights. Having Wonder available to her at school meant that Ehlena could move about independently, going from class to class or to the restroom in private without relying on the aide. Ehlena now attends another school, but this decision will make it easier for other families to advocate for their child’s independence.
Many people with disabilities rely on a service animal to assist them in living independently. Perhaps the most well-known type of service animal is a guide dog which helps a person who is blind or has low vision to walk safely from place to place. Then there are dogs like Wonder who help people with mobility disabilities. Other service animals can be trained to keep people with autism or dementia from wandering, warn people with seizure disorders when a seizure is about to happen, or alert a Deaf person to sounds in their environment. Service animals are different from emotional support animals, which may offer comfort to people with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions. Some service animals may double as support animals, such as a dog that may provide support to someone with PTSD, but will also turn on lights or warn of potential triggers in the environment.
Service and emotional support animals are treated differently when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities, according to the NIDILRR-funded ADA National Network Regional Centers. This factsheet from the National Network can help you understand your rights as a service animal owner and/or your responsibilities as a business or public entity with regard to service animals. The US Department of Justice (ada.gov) also has guidance on service animals and how they are covered under the ADA.
One of our first Research In Focus articles highlighted results from a NIDILRR-funded study on what factors are key to successfully integrating a service animal into the workplace. We also explored research on service animals and therapy animals in our reSearch series.
Our collection includes several articles, books, and reports on service and emotional support animals. Read through the abstracts and, if you’re interested, contact us to order a copy!