An Osceola County nonprofit that breeds and trains service dogs for people with disabilities is taking on a new challenge: changing the community’s concept of invisible disabilities. Pawsitive Action wants to teach Osceola that service dogs help individuals with all types of disabilities, whether they are immediately apparent or not. What other common myths and misconceptions surround service dogs and the people they assist?
Some people think that service dogs are only necessary for people who are blind or have vision loss, and that those with invisible disabilities like diabetes, PTSD, or epilepsy aren’t entitled to a service dog. Pawsitive Action employee Nicole LaBosco wants to change this view after a negative experience in a restaurant with her own service dog that involved a patron complaining.
“She was just yelling and yelling, saying how I wanted to fake it and just wanted to bring him places with me,” LaBosco, who suffers from an invisible disability known as vasovagal syncope, explained to My News 13. “The stress that puts someone through is very overwhelming.”
Sadly, the belief that certain people “fake” their disabilities to bring their dog with them everywhere is just one of many misconceptions about service dogs. Today, we debunk other common service dog myths.
Service Dogs Are Only for People Who Are Blind or Have Vision Loss
False. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks or work to assist a person with a disability. This can involve guiding people who are blind or have vision loss, protecting a person with epilepsy during a seizure, or alerting a person with diabetes if their blood sugar level is becoming dangerously high or low.
A person’s disability does not need to be “visible” or immediately apparent in order to qualify them for a service dog.
Only Large Dogs Can Be Service Dogs
This is untrue. A service dog can be any breed, shape, or size, according to publication Disabled World. What makes the difference between a pet dog and service dog is training, their health, and the proper temperament to focus on the job at hand.
It’s OK to Pet a Service Dog
Petting a service dog while they are performing a job for their human is not only disrespectful, but also potentially very dangerous. A service dog must be focused on their job the entire time they are with their human, according to Disabled World.
If distracted by the attention of strangers, their handler could get hurt. For example, the service dog may fail to notice a passing car if their handler is blind or has vision loss, or could miss signs that their handler with epilepsy may soon have an episode.
Emotional Comfort Animals Are the Same as Service Dogs
While emotional comfort animals provide their own value to their humans, they are not the same as service dogs.
An emotional comfort animal can be any type of domesticated animal that provides companionship, relieves loneliness, and mitigates depression, anxiety and certain phobias with its very presence, according to the National Service Animal Registry.
They are not specifically trained to do significant work or life tasks for their owner as a service dog is. Therefore, emotional comfort animals are not recognized as service animals under the ADA and are not allowed the same reasonable accommodations that a service dog and their handler would receive.
Restaurants and Places That Serve Food Can Deny Access to Service Animals
Under the ADA, restaurants or stores that sell or prepare food must allow service animals into the public area of the establishment, despite state or local health codes which may normally prohibit animals on the premises.
This is known as a reasonable accommodation, according to the ADA. Other common forms of reasonable accommodation include allowing a patient with a disability to keep a service animal in their hospital room, or allowing a guest with a disability to keep their service dog in their hotel room.
Discrimination Takes All Forms
Unfortunately, discrimination takes many forms. Whether it involves being denied goods or services because of your service dog or being unable to enter a building due to illegal structural inaccessibility, you don’t need to stand for discrimination on the basis of your disability.
Read more to learn how our Deaf and Disability Rights Unit attorneys can fight against the injustice of discrimination on your behalf. If you are ready to pursue a claim, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.