Friday, October 21, 2016

Assistance Animals in Australia

KangarooSpeakers at a workshop in Queensland predict that employers Down Under could soon see a sharp increase in employee requests to bring service animals to the workplace. Per Disability assistance animals or not? Problems in policy and practice workshop: Summary and Scoping Discussion Paper, with Paul Harpur, Martie-Louise Verreynne, Nancy Pachana, Peter Billings and Brent Ritchie:

Employers of the one in every five Australians that have disabilities could face increasing demands to bring "assistance animals" such as dogs and miniature horses into the workplace, a workshop heard recently.

Speakers at the workshop on the issue at the Queensland Supreme Court on September 27 said that recent court rulings and an uncertain regulatory regime have made it difficult to determine or challenge whether a worker is entitled to bring such an animal to work.

Former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes told the forum that four million Australians have disabilities that would give them protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Speakers at the workshop suggested while most of these people might not generally regard themselves as disabled, the existence of a medical condition usually enables such a person to assert they have a disability within the meaning of s4 of the Disability Discrimination Act.

They said it would be "relatively easy" for most of those people to claim an animal accompanying them was an assistance animal protected under section 9 of the Act, according to the chief investigator appointed by the workshop, Paul Harpur, a senior lecturer in the University of Queensland's TC Beirne School of Law.

A scoping paper circulated at the workshop – Disability animals or Not? Problems in policy and practice – said the Act defines assistance animals as those that are trained to help a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of their disability and to meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for an animal in a public place.

It said courts had interpreted the definition broadly to encompass "a self-trained dog that has not been accredited by a recognised disability training organisation".

Given the large numbers of people protected by the Act and the "extremely low bar" to establish that an animal provides assistance to a person with a disability, "the impact of these laws are significant and are generating substantial concerns to government, industry and the disability community", the paper said. It said the current regulatory approach to defining disability assistance animals "has resulted in questions that law, policy and theory are struggling to answer, such as:
  • How should animals, whether they be dogs, cats, miniature horses, birds, or others, have their suitability as assistance animals determined and regulated?
  • Who should be qualified to train and accredit disability assistance animals?
  • Should there be legal limitations on what impairment categories or which individuals can use disability assistance animals?
  • How can policies and regulations prevent pets being “passed off” as disability assistance animals?"

    Harpur said the workshop "identified a strong need for evidence-based reform".

    Innes told the workshop that court decisions such as Grovenor v Eldridge, Sheehan v Tin Can Bay Country Club, Forest v Queensland Health and Mulligan v Virgin Australia Airlines had resulted in three options for defining assistance animals – a state list of organisations providing accredited training for assistance animals, a federal list, or "the vague self-training provisions with no independent assessment".


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