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I read a post recently about a service dog user who, like me, has an invisible disability.  I don’t need a wheelchair, or crutches, or any physical sign of illness.  This person was yelled at and asked to leave by the manager.  I hope this never happens to any of my readers, but I admit to having a slightly less intense experience that was similar.  I’d like all of my readers to visit http://www.ada.gov and read the business and consumer information on service dogs.  It is better to be aware of what the proper treatment is than to harass a disabled person who is just trying to shop or get some pasta for dinner.

The basic idea is that:

  • You can ask if a person is disabled, but not what the disability is.
  • You can ask what tasks the dog is trained to perform.  I always answered with “medical alert” because he did do that.  I didn’t think that anyone needed the full list, besides, that list would have revealed my disability and the severity of it.
  • Service dog users can bring their dogs anyplace that the regular public is allowed.
  • There are different rules for housing and airplane travel
  • Your dog may or may not be vested, though I strongly recommend it.  I forgot once and had a world of hassle trying to get groceries.
  • You and your service dog may only be asked to leave in the instance that he or she is being a disruption in the business.  This must be an actual disruption, not someone in the store being afraid of dogs.  In that case the business owner is required to find a way to accommodate both customers.  Personally, I would just avoid the other customer so they would feel safe.  The business owner’s feeling about dogs doesn’t matter.
  • No one is allowed to charge extra fees for your dog, including hotels.  Size restrictions do not apply in hotels.  They must accept him.

At the website you will find this information as well as other very important tips for both your normal customer, the business owner, and the service dog user.  I recommend keeping a couple copies of the business guidelines in your pocketbook or your dog’s vest.

When challenged, I answered only the obligatory questions and then handed them the information sheet, inviting them to call the ADA for any clarification they needed while I shop.  I thought it was a more polite response than continuing an argument, and I got the darned box of pasta I went in the store for.  My next visit to that particular store was much more plesant.  I think that there must have been some staff training on how to handle service dogs between visits.

Remember, if you are a genuinely disabled person with a trained service dog, you should be as courteous as possible.  However, other people’s prejudices are not your problem.  You have the law on your side.  Don’t let them affect you.  Everyone is ignorant about something.  People who are not disabled probably can’t understand walking in our shoes.  Honestly, they probably wouldn’t want to.  In my more frustrated moments I have wished that the mean discriminatory person could feel as I do and experience the world as I do for just one hour.  Imagine how much more understanding people might be to our plight.