Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog
Invisible Disabilities: Combatting the Service Dog Stigma
If you’ve ever seen a service dog helping a person in a wheelchair or guiding someone with a visual impairment, you were probably very impressed. These dogs are highly trained and capable, and their service allows their handlers to lead more independent lives. However, did you know that service animals are also trained to help those with disabilities that cannot be seen, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Unfortunately, these individuals typically experience more discrimination because their disability is invisible.
National Service Dog Month is all about recognizing these animals and their handlers. The team at Hanford Veterinary Hospital wants to raise awareness around this issue and help combat service dog stigma.
What is a Service Dog?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is one who has received significant training to perform work or specific tasks for people with disabilities.
In addition to helping those with physical disabilities, service dogs also assist those with mental impairment, diabetes, PTSD, seizure disorders, and other invisible disabilities.
Service dogs can provide assistance to these individuals in the following ways:
- Waking someone with PTSD from a nightmare or night terror
- Reminding a handler to take prescribed medication
- Predicting a diabetic episode
- Turning on lights, opening doors, and performing other household tasks
- Providing a calm, comforting presence during a psychiatric episode
- Predicting and responding to a seizure
- Seeking help in the event of an emergency
The Service Dog Stigma
Unfortunately, because some individuals have a disability that’s not easily observed, the service dog stigma tends to affect them more than those with physical disabilities. Recent studies show that over half of those with physical disabilities report discrimination, while those with invisible disabilities experience significantly more.
Forms of discrimination often include:
- Being asked to prove they have a disability
- Being asked to prove their dog is a “real” service dog
- Being asked to leave an establishment or being harrassed for having their dog
- Being challenged about the legitimacy of their service dog or disability
Although the ADA states that service dogs do not need documentation and are permitted in all public areas with their handlers, the service dog stigma can lead to significant mental and emotional stress. It may even cause some people to decide against having a service dog, even when it could be really beneficial.
Education and awareness are the best tools we have to help fight the service dog stigma. Knowing the types of disabilities that a service dog can assist with can help us all better support these animals and their handlers.