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Are Service Animals Assistive Technology?


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

ADA Requirements

Service animals are defined as animals trained to perform a task for the people with disabilities. Under Title II and III of the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs. However, entities must make reasonable modifications in policies to allow individuals with disabilities to use miniature horses if they have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. Examples of service that can be performed by trained service dogs include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.

Assistive Technology Act (ATA) of 1998


Assistive technology: The term `assistive technology' means technology designed to be utilized in an assistive technology device or assistive technology service.

Assistive technology device: The term `assistive technology device' means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Assistive technology service: The term `assistive technology service' means any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Section D of ATA, highlights coordination and use of necessary therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as therapies, interventions, or services associated with education and rehabilitation plans and programs;

The Act in Action

Substantial progress has been made in the development of assistive technology devices, including adaptations to existing devices that facilitate activities of daily living that significantly benefit individuals with disabilities of all ages. These devices, including adaptations, increase involvement in, and reduce expenditures associated with, programs and activities that facilitate communication, ensure independent functioning, enable early childhood development, support educational achievement, provide and enhance employment options, and enable full participation in community living for individuals with disabilities.

Over the last 15 years, the Federal Government has invested in the development of comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance, which have proven effective in assisting individuals with disabilities in accessing assistive technology devices and assistive technology services.

There are state assistive technology systems to continue to ensure that individuals with disabilities reap the benefits of the technological revolution and participate fully in life in their communities.

The act is clear about the meaning technology in improving the life of people with disabilities, it highlights technology-related assistance for example:

  • State Assistive technology systems to ensure people with disabilities reap the benefits of technological revolution
  • Service of expanding AT intervention must include electronic and informational to individuals with disabilities

Americans with Disabilities Act

ADA has five Titles;

  • I. Employment
  • II. State and Local Government
  • III. Public Accommodations
  • IV. Telecommunications
  • V. Miscellaneous Provisions

Service Animals

Service animal is define under Title II and Title III of the ADA. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button. The revised ADA regulations have a separate provision for trained miniature horses.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

Under the IDEA Act, Assistive Technology (AT) refers to “any item, piece of equipment, or product system…that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” (From the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, Statute IA 602(1)). Considering the IDEA, service animal might be considered as product system to improve the life of children with disabilities.


The American Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits any form of discrimination for people with disabilities. ADA refers to service animal as a way to improve the living ability of individual that needs them. Under ADA act, dog is the only animal with clear recognition as a service animal. However, the Department of Justice’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses in addition to the provisions about service dogs. Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, but they are not considered service animals under the ADA. The use of service animal as Assistive technology is an open debate that will likely continue for a while. However, only a clear language modification to the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 will likely change the debate. Assistive Technology Act clearly recognized technology-related services as only form of services under the act.


Association of Assistive Technology Act Program (ATAP) retrieved from

American Disability Act retrieved from,

Brennan J. & Nguyen, V. (2014) Service animals and emotional support animals: where are they allowed and under what conditions? Southwest ADA Center retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice retrieved from or
This document is a compilation of laws and regulations from the ADA, ATA, IDEA, and DOJ’s provisions.

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