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    August 2015

    Service Animals and the ADA

    Service Animals and the ADA

    The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), which interprets sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), recently signaled that it is stepping up enforcement of service animal provisions. In July 2015, DoJ issued “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA” (FAQs), which reinforced its 2010 guidance.

    Schools and colleges should review these documents to ensure compliance. A review of policies by UE showed that many institutions are not following DoJ directives, most notably requiring students to register their service animals.

    The 2010 DoJ guidance defined “service animal” and changed what institutions can ask students and visitors about their service animals:

    • Definition of service animal: A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These tasks include guiding a blind person, recognizing seizures, or retrieving items.
    • What institutions can ask: Limited inquiries are allowed only when it is not obvious what service the animal provides. Schools may ask:
      • Is the service animal required because of a disability?
      • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

    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.

    The 2015 FAQs are not specifically directed to educational institutions, but they include useful reminders for schools and colleges:

    • Mandatory registration of service animals on campus is impermissible under the ADA, but institutions may offer voluntary registries.
    • Service animals can be excluded from campus areas when the animal’s presence would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program. The document cited student housing and noted that “service animals could be restricted from a specific area of a dormitory reserved specifically for students with allergies to dog dander.”
    • K-12 schools may need to provide assistance to disabled students to handle service animals when the animal is not under control.
    • The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs from swimming in pools on campuses. Service animals must be allowed on pool decks and in other areas where the public is allowed.

    Many institutions have expressed confusion on the difference between service and assistance animals. For more information on that topic, review our Insights blog, Student and Visitor Use of Service and Assistance Animals.


    Department of Justice 2010 Guidance on Service Animals, ADA Requirements
    Department of Justice 2015 Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA

    Mount Holyoke College Service Animals Policy

    Washington & Lee University Use of Service Animals on Campus

    By Joe Vossen, JD, Associate Risk Management Counsel


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