Many people unclear about laws for guide animals

The use of guide animals is on the increase as they become trained to perform specific tasks for more disabilities.

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP)- In recent months there have been incidents where disabled persons have been refused service at businesses because of their assistance dog.  According to the US Department of Justice, this is a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The 22News I-Team looked at the law and found out what the rights are for both the disabled person and the businesses they utilize.

Cecilia Alessandri is losing her sight and has been training with her guide dog, Willow, for several months.  One night in December 2013 she and her trainer went with Willow to a Dunkin Donuts in Chicopee and were refused entry.  They called the police.

“They called the Lieutenant and said that we would have to have an ID, show an ID and come up with papers.  That’s not right,” said Alessandri.

Denying entrance to a disabled person using a service dog is a violation of their civil rights under the Americans with Disablilities Act and can have hefty legal ramifications.

Joseph Tringali works as an advocate for the disabled at  the Stavros Center for Independent Living.   He says it is not uncommon for people to mistakenly think of assistance animals as pets or are just for the visually impaired.  And while some owners opt to equip their dog with an identifying vest, collar or harness, by law they are not required.

“Someone with a service animal doesn’t need any documentation.  The person at the establishment can ask two questions: one is if the dog is a service animal and secondly, what type of service it does provide,” explained Tringali.

Also, they cannot ask what the person’s disability is or make the dog perform tasks in order to provide proof of their ability.

According to the American with Disabilities Act, “service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disablilites” and “State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”

Businesses  have their rights, too.  An animal that is out of control or not housebroken are legitimate reasons under the law for the animal to be removed. The business must still offer to provide goods or services to the disabled person.

Service animal use is increasing as they are being trained to perform more specific tasks for various disabilities.   Advocates for the disabled believe businesses and law enforcement should include education about the Americans with Disabilities Act when training employees.

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act you can go to the government website at

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