Bridges Resource Library

Guide Dog User Rights in Public Places

Please join us as investigate the legal right to use guide dogs in public places, and we discuss some advocacy tips when interacting with others in these public places.

Foundations of Guide Dog User Rights

Guide dog users have the right to take their animals into public places based on federal civil rights laws and state laws.

Federal laws and regulations

Title III (Title 3) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), ensure that public accommodations must provide individuals with disabilities with (1) the right to use reasonable accommodations in order to enjoy the benefits of the facility or activities and (2) freedom from discrimination. [“CFR” refers to the Code of Federal Regulations, the collection of regulations enforced by the United States government.]

  • Disability: “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual” [28 CFR § 36.105(a)(1)(i)] and the ADA notes that “The definition of “disability” shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.” [28 CFR § 36.105(a)(2)(i)].
  • Public accommodation: definition is very broad and includes most establishments and businesses (including transportation services) [42 USC 42 U.S. § 12181]
  • Service animals: The ADA explicitly protects the use of “service animals,” defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” 28 CFR § 36.104. Note that this definition requires that the animal be trained to do work that benefits the human user and that service animals are limited to dogs. Notably, the use of “emotional support” animals is NOT protected under the ADA.
  • From the “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA
  • Questions that owners/employees in a public place may ask about your guide dog (or any service animal):
    • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and
    • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
    • Not permitted:
      • Requests for any documentation for the dog
      • Require that the dog demonstrate its task
      • Inquiries about the nature of the person’s disability (such as: “How blind are you?”)
      • Any requirement that service animals wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

Maryland laws

Maryland also protects disabled individuals in public places (§ 7-704) who use “service dogs” (guide dogs) (§ 13-104). References: MD Code, Local Government, § 13-104 and MD Code, Human Services, § 7-704.


There are just a few exceptions to the right to use a guide dog in a public accommodation. The first, and arguably the largest, exception involves religious organizations and private clubs. These organizations are specifically exempted from the application of Title III of the ADA. 42 USC § 12187. The other exception involves areas that cannot function properly if the public were allowed to come in, such as operating rooms during surgery.

Note: This blog discusses Title III of the ADA, which focuses on Public Accommodations. Other laws, including the ADA’s Title I (employment) and Title II (state and local government may apply in individual situations.

[“USC” refers to the United States Code, the collection of statutes (laws) passed by Congress.]

For more information on these laws and the protections they provide, please contact the Free Bridges Helpdesk.

Rights in Practice

Understanding the landscape in which we live

There are so many laws these days, and most of us don’t know most of those laws. In general, people only know about laws that affect them, their friends, and their families (and, even in these cases, many misunderstand the law in some way). Most people in the community do not know any blind/low vision people or guide dog users, so they may well not understand the legal protections set forth above.

Additionally, animals are a touchy subject. Some people have religious, medical, or emotional reasons that they do not want to be near dogs – even highly-trained guide dogs. Moreover, some people have taken to calling their pets “emotional support animals,” and this adds to the general public’s misunderstanding of guide dogs and their users.

Effective advocacy – with a spoonful of sugar

Our rights are not diminished just because someone doesn’t understand or recognize those rights. Nevertheless, as Mary Poppins told us: “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; In a most delightful way.” We can help ourselves (and others in our situations) by attempting to politely – but firmly – describe the rights that guide dog users have in the United States.

Some ways to address concerns include:

  • Thank them before they even say yes:
    • “I love eating out/shopping in person. Thank you so much for welcoming my guide dog and me into your restaurant/store.”
    • While nothing is 100% effective, many people (even those opposed to guide dogs) will accept your thanks and withhold any criticism they might have been preparing to give.
  • Consider answering the two ADA-permitted questions before they ask:
    • I need this service animal because I am [choose what you wish to say, like blind, low vision, visually impaired, cannot see well, etc.].
    • And my guide dog has been trained to help me [again, choose what you wish to say, navigate my environment, warn me of obstacles, etc.].
  • Acknowledge their unspoken fears: “I understand that you may be uncomfortable with my guide dog, but know that s/he is highly trained, and I am in complete control of him/her.”

Keep your rights close at hand

As noted above, there are many, many, many laws that govern our society and give us the rights we cherish. Being able to produce documentation of your rights can be both empowering and effective. Please consider downloading and adding to your smartphone’s memory the Bridges Technical Assistance Center’s Guide Dog User Rights in Maryland Reference Sheet, which is also available online as the Bridges Resource Library Guide Dog User Rights in Maryland Reference Sheet entry.

Please reach out to us at the Free Bridges Helpdesk anytime with any questions, concerns, needs for assistance, etc. We are always eager to hear from you!

Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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