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Service Animals and the ADA

Joe Vossen, JD
October 2020
Steps to ensure compliance with service animal provisions

The Department of Justice (DoJ), which interprets sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), issued in July 2015 “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA” (FAQs), which reinforced its 2010 guidance.

Your K-12 school, college, or university should review these documents to ensure compliance. Many institutions don’t follow 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 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?” and “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”

Institutions can’t 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 FAQs aren’t specifically directed to educational institutions, but they include useful reminders:

  • Mandatory registration of service animals on campus isn’t allowed under the ADA, but your institution 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 help to disabled students to handle service animals when the animals are not under control.
  • The ADA does not override public health rules prohibiting dogs from swimming in pools on campuses. Service animals must be allowed on pool decks and in other areas where the public is allowed.