Rights, Access & Laws

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people who are in the company of an assistance dog must have all the same rights and access of any other person. This includes entry into restaurants, shops and places where dogs are typically not allowed to go.  

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 and gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion. It works to break down barriers to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services and telecommunications for people with disabilities.”

—The U.S. Department of Justice

Summary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

  • Assistance dogs are protected by the federal law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The ADA guarantees that all people with disabilities have the legal right to use their assistance animal in all areas that are open to the general public.
  • “No pet” policies do not apply to assistance animals, even in facilities that sell or prepare food.
  • Assistance animals come in all breeds and sizes, and are not required to wear special identifying items when they work.
  • Businesses may not ask a person to prove his or her disability and may not ask for proof that an assistance animal is certified.
  • Assistance animals may only be removed from a public environment for excessive barking and/or disruptive behavior (this is highly unlikely to occur).
  • Allergies and/or fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying or refusing service to people accompanied by an assistance animal.
  • Businesses may not charge an extra fee to disabled individuals that are accompanied by an assistance animal, and may not seat the person in a separate area from other patrons.
  • Always ask a disabled individual before touching his or her assistance animal. Assistance animals are friendly, but any form of distraction could cause problems for the handler – even when the handler is seated.

Download a bookmark for kids or pocket guide for your wallet

Perfect for classrooms and schools, the rights and access bookmark is a handy, colorful, fun summary of the ADA, just for kids! Three bookmarks per page. Download the bookmark

The rights and access pocket guide is a credit card-sized cheat sheet about the laws that protect a person with an assistance dog. This guide is a quick, easy way to educate the public when you're on the go. Ten guides per page. Download the Pocket Reference Guide

Assistance Dogs in Places of Business

All of the following material can be found on the government website www.disability.gov. This information was reproduced with the website’s permission, and replication of the following for the purposes of education and awareness is encouraged.

Assistance animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.

  • Businesses that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to enter with their service animal.
  • Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person's disability.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. However, if a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
  • A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
  • In these cases, the business should give the person with the disability the option to obtain goods and services without having the animal on the premises.                                                   
  • Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • A business is not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself.
  • Allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals.
  • Violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and penalties.

Frequently asked questions about service animals in places of business

1. Q: What are the laws that apply to my business?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

2. Q: What is a service animal?

 A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

  • Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
  • Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
  • Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

A service animal is not a pet.

3. Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

4. Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

 A: The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

5. Q: I have always had a clearly posted "no pets" policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A: Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your "no pets" policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your "no pets" policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

6. Q: My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A: Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.

7. Q: Can I charge maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?

A: No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany the individual with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages. For example, a hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal if it is the hotel's policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage.

8. Q: I operate a private taxicab and I don't want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have "accidents." Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?

 A: Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.

9. Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

A: No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.

10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises. 

11. Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn't really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business? 

A: There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal--that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.

Assistance Dogs in Schools

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a child with a physical disability who is capable of being fully responsible for a service dog in public should be allowed full access in the child's school (note: according to the ADA, this does not include children with an emotional assistance dog.) A child's ability to be responsible for the assistance dog is usually determined by a public access test performed by the assistance dog organization that trained the dog. Schools should allow reasonable accommodations for the child and his or her dog by having outdoor trash receptacles for the dog’s bathroom needs, and making classroom accommodations to allow for the space needed by the dog. The school is not required to tend to the dog, or to provide a person to help the child with the dog.

Children who do not pass the public access test may utilize an assistance dog only when in the company of a parent or guardian. When working under the supervision of a parent, the child and dog must be allowed in the school, including during afterschool activities.

The ADA establishes that fear and allergies are not valid reasons for refusing entrance to an assistance dog. Schools may request information on the dog, they cannot require it. Often, parents and students are willing to provide this information to help the school be more secure in supporting the needs of the student.

This information was compiled with the help of Canines for Disabled Kids.

Helpful Links

Air Carriers Access Act

Americans with Disabilities Act

Assistance Dogs International

Canines for Disabled Kids

Department of Justice -- Reaching Out to Customers With Disabilities Lesson One: Policies, Practices and Procedures

International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP)

Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) -- Service Animals

Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) -- Travelers with Disabilities

Massachusetts Office on Disability