Under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a Service Animal is defined as, "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability" (28 CFR 35.104.). However, within Title II, Emotional Support Animals are specifically excluded from the definition of Service Animal as follows: "The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition."
When contemplating the "tasks" of a Service Animal, the work or tasks must be directly related to the individual's disability which include the following examples:
· Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks;
· Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds;
· Providing non-violent protection or rescue work;
· Pulling a wheelchair;
· Assisting an individual during a seizure;
· Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens;
· Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone;
· Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities;
· Helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
What does all of this mean? In a nutshell, Title II states that school districts are required to make "reasonable modifications" to permit students to bring a Service Animal to school. However, they are not required to provide these same modifications for Emotional Support Animals. The key to ensuring that a school district will provide these modifications and allow a Service Animal on campus, is that the dog's "work or tasks" must be directly related to the student's disability.
Danielle Augustin is a founding partner of Augustin Egelsee LLP, a law firm representing children and families with special education needs. Danielle has been practicing law for nearly 20 years, first as a deputy district attorney in Orange County, California, then as a special education student attorney for the past 14 years. For more information about special education law, go to: www.OcKidsLaw.com or call 714-282-1242.