Have you ever seen a service dog helping a person with a disability cross the street or find their way into a building? Have you wondered about how the dogs are trained and why we are asked to not pet the dogs when they are working?
The Alberta Disabilities Forum Service Dog Working Group has set out to answer these and other questions by conducting research to learn about service dogs and the important role they play in the lives of people with disabilities. The working group has learned that there are many different types of dogs that are trained to provide assistance to people with disabilities to meet their individual needs. A variety of terms are used to describe these dogs, such as service dogs, therapy dogs or guide dogs. The term ‘assistance dogs’ can be used to encompass all of these dogs and their unique abilities:
• Service dog is a term that is generally used to describe assistance dogs that are trained to help people with disabilities.
• Mobility assistance dogs are trained to assist people who have mobility limitations with tasks such as providing balance, retrieving items and pulling a manual wheelchair.
• Guide dogs are trained to help people who have visual impairments with tasks, such as way-finding, negotiating traffic and improving social confidence.
• Hearing dogs are trained to alert people who are hard of hearing or Deaf to a variety of sounds, such as telephones, alarm clocks and smoke alarms.
• Diabetes and seizure alert dogs are trained to sense physiological changes in their handlers, such as blood sugar levels, to alert their owner and provide time for the owner to preventative take medicine or find help.
• Autism support dogs are trained to support people who have Autism spectrum disorder to manage problem behaviours, develop social and communication skills.
• Psychological support dogs are trained to support people who have psychiatric disorders, such as PTSD, to improve social skills and emotional well-being.
Many people are not aware of the benefits that assistance dogs provide to people with disabilities, the training that assistance dogs undergo in order to be certified and the rights that certified assistance dogs have within public spaces. In Alberta, the right of service dogs to be allowed in public spaces is protected under the Service Dogs Act and the right of guide dogs to be allowed in public spaces is protected under the Blind Persons’ Rights Act. This legislation ensures that people with disabilities cannot be denied access to public spaces, such as restaurants, stores and hotels, when they are accompanied by their certified assistance dog.
Assistance dogs have a lot of responsibility and require extensive training before they are ready to be paired with a person with a disability. Assistance dogs are provided basic obedience training, usually at a young age, and are then trained to perform tasks and develop skills that will mitigate a particular disability. Assistance dogs become familiar with places and methods of transportation, learn commands and use selective disobedience if they know a command will put their owner in danger.
In order to raise awareness about assistance dogs, the ADF Service Dog working group is building a foundational document on the benefits, training and history of assistance dogs that will be published in January 2015. This document will be available at www.adforum.ca/publications.
The next time you see a service dog remember that dog is on the clock, just like any person who has a job, and no one wants to be interrupted while focused on performing well on the job! For more information, contact Jackie Beaton at 780-488-9088 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call for Nominations: CCD Award
ACCD will once again present the Council of Canadians with Disabilities Award to an individual who is dedicated to the “pursuit of full participation in society by people with disabilities.” If you know an Albertan whose commitment to the disability community deserves recognition, please consider nominating that person.
The deadline for nominations is December 31, 2014. Nomination forms are available by calling ACCD’s office at 780-488-9088 or toll free at 1-800-387-2514. Nomination forms are also available on ACCD’s website at www.accd.net.
The Importance of Giving: Consider a Donation to ACCD
Each Christmas, friends and family gather to celebrate the holiday season. Central to the celebration is the reminder of the importance of giving, whether it is in the form of a gift, a volunteer effort, or making a charitable donation. Please consider making a gift to ACCD this holiday season.
As a non-profit organization, ACCD’s hard work and sustainability rely on charitable donations. With your contribution, ACCD will continue educating and raising awareness about people with disabilities; conducting audits of public spaces to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities; providing consumer support and referral services to people with disabilities and their families; producing disability-related projects and research; and collaborating and partnering with like-minded organizations.
Although it is said the greatest gift has no strings attached, Albertans will receive tax incentives for making charitable donations. Including the federal tax credit, Albertans receive a 50% non-refundable tax credit for every dollar donated over the $200 threshold. Donations below the $200 threshold receive a combined tax credit of 25%. Charitable donations can be made online at www.accd.net, by phoning us toll-free at 1-800-387-2514, or by mailing your donation to our office in Edmonton. This holiday season embrace the importance of giving, make a difference in your community and give to ACCD.
From all of us at ACCD, we wish you peace, joy, and happiness throughout the Holiday Season and the New Year.