It’s hard to overstate the benefits of assistance dogs; from guide dogs for the blind to therapy puppies for mental health, people living with Autism, ADHD, and cognitive and intellectual delay, man’s best friend is always there when we need them. Unfortunately, these valuable service dogs and their companions still face discrimination in the community.
Independent community legal service, Canberra Community Law, in partnership with mindDog Australia, is fighting this discrimination with their free and flexible Disability Discrimination Law Service and community education workshops.
Canberra Community Law senior solicitor, Farzana Choudhury, said despite the critical role of assistance animals, there were many cases where people with assistance animals had been denied their rights in accessing public transport, education, and other services or venues.
“This is an issue that I had noticed in my day-to-day work running the Disability Discrimination Law service which has involved advocating for people with assistance animals who have been treated unfairly,” she said.
“A lot of people may have heard of Guide Dogs helping people with vision impairment, but might not be aware of the range of support that assistance animals can provide to people with disability, particularly for more hidden disabilities, like mental health.
“Given the experiences of our clients, I was very keen to reach out to the public to raise awareness about the legal rights of people with assistance animals under the Domestic Animals Act 2000 and discrimination law.”
Canberra Community Law recently held a community event where participants from a range of backgrounds shed light on their experiences using assistance animals.
Farzana said the event was about the invaluable support an assistance animal can provide as well as the unwarranted stigma and exclusion many people face.
Founder of mindDog Australia, Cath Phillips, shared her own personal experiences of discrimination as a person with an assistance animal.
Farzana said it was fantastic to work with mindDog Australia to help ensure the event was informed by the lived experience of people with disability.
The partnership is now raising awareness of a new assistance animal accreditation framework in the ACT, which is finally in operation after some COVID-related delays.
The framework clarifies and promotes the existing rights of people with service dogs and other assistance animals and gives people the option to register an accredited assistance animal and receive an assistance animal ID card confirming their animal meets behaviour and hygiene standards.
Farzana said she wanted to ensure people with assistance animals and those they interact with know what the law says about the rights of people with assistance animals and ensure their respect.
“Hopefully by sharing this knowledge through our events and the new resources we have developed will help to prevent instances of disability discrimination, and ensure that if people with disability are treated unfairly they know where to go for help. Everyone has a role to play in making our community more inclusive for all.”
Canberra Community Law has developed legal fact sheets on assistance animals and associated rights. The fact sheets are available here: (https://www.canberracommunitylaw.org.au/fact-sheets-brochures/disability-discrimination-fact-sheets.html).
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