Service animals assist people with many different types of disabilities and can make a real difference. However, laws regarding service animals can be confusing. Disability Rights Wisconsin is here to provide support and information on this topic, and to help you know and exercise your rights as an owner or potential owner of a service animal.
Under state and federal statutes and regulations, persons with disabilities are allowed the use of service animals in many locations where animals are otherwise prohibited.
Federal policy regarding service animals is found primarily in Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and is based on previous interpretations of section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794. The federal Fair Housing Act reasonable accommodation provisions also have applicability to service animals.
Under the ADA, privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, sports facilities, and hospitals are considered public accommodations, and are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Under section 36.302 of the Title III rules, 28 C.F.R. 36.302, a public accommodation is required to modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability, unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration of the goods or services provided, or the safe operation of a public accommodation would be jeopardized. According to policy guidance provided by the Department of Justice, the intent of this regulation is to ensure the broadest feasible access be provided to service animals in all public accommodations, including hospitals and nursing homes.
Service animals for individuals with disabilities are covered under two sections of state law, public accommodations and housing.
Places of public accommodation, amusement, or recreation are not allowed to deny access to any person who is blind, deaf or mobility impaired because the person is accompanied by a specially trained dog. In addition, public accommodations cannot deny access to a person with a disability being trained in the use of a specially trained dog, or to a trainer who is preparing such animals for their eventual use by persons with disabilities. The statute goes on to say that the provisions only apply if the dog is wearing a harness or a leash and special cape, and the person has presented credentials about the dog issued by a school that trains such animals, but the broader provisions of the ADA (see above) have priority over this limitation.
Under Wisconsin housing law, if an individual’s vision, hearing, or mobility is impaired, it is discrimination to refuse to rent or sell housing, evict from housing, or harass an individual because s/he keeps an animal that is specially trained to lead or assist the individual. The statute states that upon request, the individual is required to show credentials issued by a school recognized as accredited to train such animals, but a court case has shown that the broader provisions of federal law have priority over this requirement.
There is an exception in the housing law in the case of owner-occupied housing. If the owner or a member of their immediate family can show evidence of an allergy to the specific type of animal the individual with a disability possesses, it is permissible to refuse to rent to the individual
Disability Rights Wisconsin provides service counseling on how to file a complaint and how to make yourself heard if your rights as an owner of a service animal are infringed. Below you will find resources to learn your rights as a service animal owner.
Other places that may be able to help you:
You can find more information on this topic from these websites and publications:
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