Earlier this year the New York Times featured an article about miniature horses replacing guide dogs as “service animals” for people with certain types of disabilities.  (Hat tip to Daniel Zimberoff of the Northwest Condo & HOA Law Blog for passing it along.)  The article thoroughly discussed the several different types of service animals and the definition briefly and generally described the history of service animals:

“… [F]irst it was guide dogs for the blind; now it’s monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck. They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go. …”

This New York Times article is of particular interest in light of the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”), which came into force on January 1, 2008 and which affects most condos as private sector organizations that provide goods and services. The purpose of the AODA is described as follows at section 1:

Recognizing the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario, the purpose of this Act is to benefit all Ontarians by,

(a) developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025; and

(b) providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of the accessibility standards.

Section 9 of the AODA’s Regulation 427/07 establishes accessibility standards for customer service and prescribes the following criteria as to whether an animal is properly qualified as a service animal:

(a) if it is readily apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or

(b) if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.

Section 4 of the Regulation states that if a person with a disability is accompanied by a service animal, the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises. If a service animal is excluded by law from the premises other measures must be available to enable the person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the goods or services.

Section 6 of the Regulation mandates specific staff training to properly deal with service animals:

6. (1) Every provider of goods or services shall ensure that the following persons receive training about the provision of its goods or services to persons with disabilities:

1. Every person who deals with members of the public or other third parties on behalf of the provider, whether the person does so as an employee, agent, volunteer or otherwise.

2. Every person who participates in developing the provider’s policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to members of the public or other third parties.

(2) The training must include a review of the purposes of the Act and the requirements of this Regulation and instruction about the following matters:

1. How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability.

2. How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person.

3. How to use equipment or devices available on the provider’s premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability.

As private sector good and service providers, condos have until January 1, 2012 “to use reasonable efforts to ensure that its policies, practices, and procedures are consistent with the regulation’s principles.” It seems that subsection 6(2) above would include lawyers, condo directors and managers in the category of people who would require training under subsection 6(1). 

Check back soon for our comments on this training requirement and further updates on the AODA.