As an agency of the state – and leading provider of public accommodation – public transit systems are required to adhere to the tenets of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), equal protection laws, and all state and municipal regulations pertaining to accommodations for those with a disability.
When it comes to service animals, the ADA has set forth clear guidelines requiring accommodations and allowances for such animals – even in areas where pets are generally not allowed. For instance, a pet-free apartment complex is required to make an accommodation for any tenant relying on the assistance of a service animal, regardless of the animal’s size or breed. Likewise, a public transportation system must ensure its disabled clientele are able to board and disembark safely and with the help of a service animal if needed.
Earlier this year, a New York City woman filed a grievance with the city after the public transportation system allegedly refused to allow her to board with an animal designated as a “therapy” dog. In her complaint, the woman accused several Bronx-area bus drivers of turning her away, berating her, and even calling the police about her. According to her allegations, she suffers from severe depression and anxiety, as well as substantial vision problems. To remedy these conditions, she travels with the help of a support animal that is able to calm her fears, help her avoid dangerous situations, and even remind her to take her medication.
Currently, there is a differential between a “service animal” as covered by the ADA, and an emotional support or therapy animal. In the former, the animal has been trained to specifically address the unique mental or physical needs of its handler – who must suffer from a documented disabling condition. The latter, while considered an important component to mental health treatment, is not always considered within the guise of a service animal, and many individuals have experienced harassment and discrimination by uninformed shopkeepers, landlords, and the like.
If you are facing a situation involving disability discrimination in the five boroughs of New York City and you would like to discuss your options with a reputable legal professional, please contact the Seelig Law Offices LLC: 212-766-0600.