The Ontario AODA, the Customer Service Standard, and Service Animals: Part 1- What Is a Service Animal?

In August 2014, a security guard at a mall in Toronto forced an individual to wait outside the mall because, according to the guard, the individual’s service dog was not allowed to enter the premises. The individual, who suffers from PTSD, was recently awarded $1000 by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for “damage to his dignity, feelings and self-respect.” For organizations providing goods or services to the public or other organizations, the story highlights the importance of ensuring that employees are familiar with the requirements related to “service animals” under the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Ontario Regulation 429/07 (the “Standards”) of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the “Act”). This three-part series will look at these requirements.

The Act defines an animal as a “service animal” if: i) “it is readily apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability”; or ii) “if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.” The Act also refers to the Blind Person’s Rights Act definition of “guide dog” and the definition of “service dog” in the Health and Promotion Act, Ontario Regulation 562. Some service animals are well known but there are many different types of service animals and employers should consider educating their employees about the animals they might encounter. People with disabilities in Ontario might use, for example: i) an “autism assistance or service dog”; ii) a “hearing ear, hearing, sound alert or hearing alert dog [or] cat”; or iii) a small pony or miniature horse that provides mobility assistance.”

These animals help people with disabilities in a variety of ways. For example, an autism assistance or service dog is attached to a child by a belt and it helps prevent the child from running into danger. Animals trained to help people who suffer from seizures can steer their owners away from danger during a seizure and even alert the owner to an oncoming seizure. How employees respond if a customer walks into a store with a service animal is critically important. Next week, part two in this three-part series will look at what is required under the Standards.

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