As mental health concerns grow in schools nationwide, the use of service and assistance animals is growing in popularity and demand with students.
When responding to requests for these animals to come on campus, school administrators must first understand the distinct differences between “service” and “assistance” while developing a protocol for responding.
Service and Assistance Animals Defined
Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as “a dog or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These include tasks such as guiding a blind person, recognizing seizures, or retrieving items.”
Assistance animals are defined by the ADA as “any kind of animal that alleviates a disability, including those that solely provide emotional support.”
Responding To Requests
The ADA has protocols in place for what questions may be asked when a request for a service or assistance animal is received.
- Is the service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
According to the ADA, institutions cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the animal, or ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Actions to Take
As requests for service and assistance animals rise, there are several steps you can take to ensure your institution is prepared. An article from United Educators highlights these steps, which include:
- Review disability policies for both students and visitors.Ensure these rules comply with ADA rules regarding service animals.
- Avoid copying procedures from other institutions. Their information could be outdated.
- Ensure policies correctly distinguish “service” and “assistance” animals.
- Engage in the interactive process on assistance animal requests to ensure those making the request have disabilities that are alleviated by the animal.
- Do not require that students prove the animal has proper certification.
- If your campus includes student housing, ensure you are complying with applicable Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules, unless otherwise directed by legal counsel.
Service and assistance animals can provide comfort and care to disabled students and visitors. Talk to an RCM&D advisor today for more on these animals and how your institution can ensure it is taking the proper steps to respond to requests.