17 January 2012

Service Dogs Have Rights Too!

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is getting action done when places feel they can ride roughshod over people with service dogs. This time St. Edward Mercy Medical Center in Fort Smith, Arkansas was caught in the cross hairs of the US Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

Few details are made known, but the medical center does have to establish non-discrimination policies. This means teaching its staff and program participants of the policies and training them on their obligations to provide these services without discrimination to qualified persons with disabilities. Staff must receive training specific for permitting service animals into its facility in accordance with Section 504.

People in the USA that believe an entity receiving federal financial assistance has discriminated against them or someone else on the basis of a disability may file a complaint with the OCR. Guidance for filing the complaint can be found here.

By bringing this action, HHS has shown that it will enforce Section 504 and ensure access to health care. Service animals are used by people that have different disabilities and must be allowed to accompany people with disabilities. Many places do try to limit their access and more will face problems.

Section 504 provides that any entity may not limit access to service animals and prevents places from denying access just because the individual does not produce a tag or other documentation about the service animal. This also applies to what tasks the animal performs, veterinarian's health certificate, or other documentation about the animal's health.

Other entities must take heed from this settlement and be prepared to allow service animals for people with disabilities. Read the press release from HHS here.

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