Public Access for Assistance Dogs

The Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act (2009) (GHADogs), has replaced the Guide Dogs Act. This Act is designed to protect the rights of assistance dogs to accompany their handler in public places, but also specifies who can train and certify an assistance dog in Queensland. This should allow regulation of the assistance dogs that are out in public, and give confidence to members of the public that the dogs that they are coming into contact with are properly trained and accredited.

While it's a relatively new development for the Qld Government, public access for assistance dogs has been protected by federal legislation since 1992, under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). So public access privileges for assistance dogs in Qld is not a new phenomenon; assistance dogs already had a legal right to access public transport and other public spaces with their handler. The DDA specifies that a person can not be denied access to a public place on the grounds that they are accomplanied by an assistance dog. 

There are some gaps in the GHADogs legislation that means that not all people with a properly trained assistance dog are able to comply with the legislation. For instance, if a person with a disability has trained their own assistance dog, without going through an assistance dog training organisation, they are required to find a DSQ-approved trainer or training organisation that is able to accredit their dog under the new legislation. This often proves very difficult as trainers and training organisations that administer a public access test bear some responsibility for the behaviour of that dog in public. Therefore, trainers and training organisation are unwilling to test dogs whose previous training and behaviour history is not known to them.

Canine Helpers remains the only organisation that offers a certification course for privately trained assistance dogs, which takes six months to complete. There is no quick answer to accrediting a privately trained dog, and there are currently no DSQ-accredited training organisations that are able to accredit a dog that was not trained by that organisation apart from Canine Helpers.  An alternative is to employ accredited trainers to train the dog.  This can prove very costly.

The legislation fails to provide for assistance dogs visiting from interstate with their handler.  Visitors to Queensland should contact the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Section of the Department of Disability Services to get guidance on the likely obstacles to access they may experience or to seek a 'common sense' solution with the Departmental staff concerning their access requirements during their visit.  

Assistance dogs still retain their public access privileges, and can continue to accompany their handler in public places, protected by the DDA. The difficulties they face, however, include battling with DSQ's own promotion campaign regarding the GHADogs Act, which specifies that assistance dogs must wear a DSQ logo on their coat or harness, and handlers must carry a DSQ-issued ID card. Public transport officials and business owners are trying to do the right thing by members of the public by questioning people with dogs in public, armed with information brochures from DSQ with pictures of "assistance dogs" in "ID coats" sporting the DSQ logo.  A Handler and Assistance Dog without the proper Qld accreditation can be asked to leave public areas like shopping centres and public transport.  While the Handler may subsequently approach the DDA and receive a favourable response, that is not very helpful at the time the public access is denied them.