Friday, January 21, 2011
"The Federal government has revised the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to change the definition of a “service animal” to “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”After consideration by our Committee on Accessible Transportation, the TriMet Board is expected to adopt the new definition at its meeting next week. Operators, field supervisors and customer service personnel will receive detailed information about this change before it goes into effect March 15. The topic will also be addressed during bus operator recertification, which begins in April.
TriMet Code has always been modeled on the ADA guidelines. The ADA’s “service animal” definition formerly lacked a species restriction and allowed for “comfort animals,” defined as any species that provided emotional support or comfort to a customer. The new definition is more restrictive and provides greater clarity when it comes to what animals can be used. Note that the new definition does not prohibit specific breeds of dogs.
The revised Federal regulations include one detail which has captured the attention of the local media: An exception for miniature horses. Although this kind of service animal is becoming slightly more popular across the country, we are unaware of any miniature horses working as service animals in the Portland area. The new Federal regulations provide a list of factors to assess , including whether: (1) the miniature horse has been individually trained to perform a task for the benefit of a person with a disability, and the task they perform relates directly to the person’s disability, (2) our vehicles can accommodate the type, size and weight of the animal, (3) the person has sufficient control of the animal, (4) the animal is housebroken, and (5) the animal’s presence in a District vehicle does not compromise legitimate safety requirements.
TriMet has established an administrative rule that outlines how we will handle exceptions to the service animal definition. We will follow this process for any non-canine requests for exception. A person using a TriMet-approvednon-canine service animal will be issued a TriMet sticker that designates the animal as allowed to ride on our system outside of a closed container. They would, of course, still have to behave appropriately. We do not expect that this administrative process will be used often, and all exceptions must be approved by the general manager.Since the TriMet Board will officially adopt this revision next Wednesday it is possible we will continue to hear more about this in the media. I wanted you to know the reasons for the change and that we will have procedures in place to deal with exceptions. We believe these changes help clarify this issue for both our customers and operators, allowing us to enforce our code more clearly and promote civility on our system."