In relation to the Discussion Paper : Assistance Animals, the DDA and Health and Hygiene Regulations.
My name is Peter Bennett. I am the President of Australian Support Dogs, Inc. (ASDOG).
Our organisation is a registered charity that was established in March of 1997 with the sole purpose of procuring and training Assistance Dogs for persons with disabilities (PWD).
The founding members of ASDOG are PWD that either owned or have been involved with Assistance Dogs for the past seven years, both in Australia and overseas. The enormous personal benefits derived from their Trained Assistance Dogs, plus their combined professional experience provided the passion and the vision that inspired ASDOG to allow other PWD benefit from their own properly Trained Assistance Dog.
ASDOG is a member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and is bound by their internationally accepted code of ethics in relation to all areas of operation, and accreditation of dogs and recipients.
Our sister organisation is Texas Hearing and Service Dogs (THSD) a well established and highly respected organisation that only uses motivational techniques for dog training. THSD has been invaluable in assisting us set up or training program and infrastructure. Our Training Director, Karin Bridge, has spent time working with THSD in a hands-on role.
Our organisation has a rigid process of training which provides for approximately six to nine months of training before the dog is placed with its recipient and then a further three months in-home training is completed before accreditation takes place.
Our Accredited Trained Assistance Dog teams carry an ID card identifying them and the dog. Whilst in public the dog is required to wear our distinctive orange ID cape which contains our logo and identifies the dog as a Trained Assistance Dog.
These measures are designed to avoid any confusion with the public and long term, as more Trained Assistance Dogs are accredited by ours and similar organisations, the public will become more accustomed to these dogs and quite clearly this will avoid confusion as to their purpose or role.
It must be appreciated that prior to two years ago there were no organisations in this country providing Trained Assistance Dogs to PWD, and individuals were forced to train or have trained their own dogs, and these people cannot be excluded from the legitimate use of their animals.
SUBMISSION TO DISABILITY RIGHTS UNIT HREOC
HREOC DISCUSSION PAPER
QUESTION: What Assistance animals other than Guide and Hearing dogs should be recognised?
ANSWER: Broadly, any animal that has been specially trained to assist a person with a disability. This could include, amongst other things: a dog, or a monkey.
QUESTION: Is the DDA Section 9 sufficiently clear about the circumstances to what it applies?
ANSWER: Yes. Because there is a risk of exclusion of a legitimate use by attempting to be specific about the circumstances to which it applies.
QUESTION: Does the DDA need to provide a general exception for measures reasonably necessary to protect public health rather than the Public Health Exception in Section 48?
ANSWER: No. There is no greater health risk in allowing either Guide dogs, Hearing dogs or Assistance animals into premises where there is a health or hygiene issue.
To allow one or two groups without the other would be discriminatory.
To prevent any one of these groups access without their animal would be discriminatory.
The DDA does NOT presently require evidence of the animal being trained to meet a need for assistance because of a person's disability.
The DDA does NOT require evidence of certification by a recognised agency.
The concern expressed that confusion in this area is undermining the effectiveness of access rights for Guide dogs and Hearing dogs is not explained and is not a sustainable argument.
There is no lack of clarity of rights and responsibilities contributing to conflict between retailers or their staff and users of "other" animals, as this is clearly stated in Clause 9(1)(f).
The writer has the personal experience of seven years of usage of a trained Assistance Dog. On the number of occasions that I have been challenged when attempting to enter premises I have simply explained that I am accompanied by an Assistance Dog which I am legally entitled to do under Clause 9(1)(f) of the DDA. In 98% of cases this is sufficient to allay concerns and allow entry.
In very rare instances I have actually shown an extract of the DDA page contained Clause 9(1)(f). If the public or retailers are reassured that allowing entry is legal and not contravening a health or food regulation, then they are quite comfortable and not confused and have always allowed me entry.
QUESTION: Should Section 9 only apply to Guide and Hearing dogs?
ANSWER: The DDA was written with the foresight of recognising that other animals could and would be used by PWD as has been the practice in other countries for many years.
To remove Section 9(1)(f) from the DDA and force PWD with trained Assistance animals to rely on Section 6 would have the effect of denying, by obscuring, the obvious rights of entry afforded by the DDA.
The Courts have the ultimate responsibility for interpreting the law and it is not the responsibility of HREOC to recommend deletion of a piece of legislation to have the effect of making the legislation clearer.
HREOC seeks comments on the following:
Any assistance animals in use which are covered by Section 9 and which should be recognised beyond Guide dogs and Hearing dogs.
For a number of years a number of PWD have been using trained Assistance Dogs. Up until very recently there was no option other than to self train or have privately trained this type of dog, because there was no such organisation in existence such as the equivalent of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.
These dogs have provided a much needed role in assisting the PWD. Typically, these dogs are trained to carry out a number of tasks that the PWD cannot carry out.
For example, the dogs maybe trained to pick up, fetch or retrieve a dropped article. This could be a wallet, mobile 'phone, car keys, a pen, or many other items that a PWD may need picked up on a daily basis.
Additional tasks trained may include opening a door or cupboard, operating a light switch or going for assistance. These dogs are trained to provide a level of independence and safety that the PWD would not otherwise have.
The Commission seeks comment on whether Section 9 in its present form is clear enough in its application where a person is allowed in but the Assistance animal is not.
Section 9 does not provide the option of allowing the PWD in without the Assistance animal. This was upheld by Jennings v Guan Lee, even though this was a Guide dog. The DDA does not provide differing priority or treatment to Assistance animals to Guide dog or Hearing dog.
The DDA has precedence over laws regarding health and hygiene and the hardship defence is not sustainable, particularly as provision is already made for Guide dogs and Hearing dogs.The argument based on hygiene or health reasons is invalid.
One must realise that some of these health regulations were written before Assistance animals for PWD was envisaged.
There is no greater risk posed by an Assistance dog than risks posed by Guide or Hearing dogs. There has never been any diseases or health threats attributed to Assistance dogs. Most hygiene problems have been traced to water sources, infected food or unclean premises.
Assisting the disabled in their every day functions has been given paramount importance by the DDA, so much so that it has been purposely designed to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It was not intended for the exclusive rights of one or two groups.
It is not the purpose or responsibility of HREOC to erode the provisions of the DDA, nor is it their right to interpret, but rather to enforce the legislation and common law rights of all disabled people and their Assistance animals.
It should be clearly understood that PWD have a reliance and dependence on Assistance animals whether they be a Guide dog, Hearing Dog or Trained Assistance dog. This means in all situations and locations, whether food or hygiene is an issue or not. The prescribing of any law to be exempt from the DDA is potentially disastrous for PWD because it could mean, in the case of premises where food is an issue, that access to supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops and on aeroplanes, would be denied.
This would be blatant discrimination, a deprivation of human rights and highly inappropriate for visitors to the upcoming Paralympics that would be used to living in an environment governed by civil rights such as the A.D.A. operating in the USA.
Could you imagine Australia's reputation if visiting PWD for the Paralympics discovered we possessed restrictive legislation that was incompatible with world standards.
QUESTION: Should the DDA provide a more general public health exception than Section 48?
ANSWER: As stated previously, there has never been a case of an Assistance animal carrying and transmitting an infectious disease. The reality is that Guide dogs, Hearing dogs and Trained Assistance dogs are highly valuable and valued to provide an indispensable service to their recipients. These service animals have regular vet. checks and are maintained in a much better state of health and general condition than the average companion animal.
The proposed amendment to Section 48 to provide a more general public health exemption is too vague. Who is responsible to determine what is "reasonably necessary".
In conclusion, please provide our organisation with feedback in relation to the outcome of this discussion process.
Should you wish to discuss this matter further I can be contacted on "Phone 02 9979 6986, or fax 02 9979 6827, or e-mail pbennett@S054.aone.com.net.au
AUSTRALIAN SUPPORT DOGS, INC.