What is a Reasonable Accommodation, and Why Do I Have to Write a Letter to Get One?
A Reasonable Accommodation is a request based on your needs resulting from your disability.
A student is guaranteed rights in public schools - both colleges/universities and kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Disability rights in schools have triple protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and 2010, Fair Housing Act 1988, and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
How to Request Reasonable Accommodations in Colleges and Universities
Here is some discussion on the Federal laws that provide protection for students who have disabilities and who may be using a service dog to mitigate their disability.
[Accommodating Service and Assistance Animals on Campus: Making Heads or Tails of the ADA, FHA, and Section 504, NACUA Notes, April 14, 2011 Vol 9 No 8]
Americans with Disabilities Act
Title II of the ADA requires that public colleges and universities modify their policies to accommodate individually trained dogs that qualify as service animals. All public and private universities (other than qualifying religious entities) must modify their policies to accommodate dogs that qualify as service animals under Title III. Individuals with disabilities shall be permitted to be accompanied by their service animals in all areas of a place of public accommodation.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Institutions receiving federal financial assistance (which covers nearly every college and university in the country) imposes the same obligations on colleges and universities as the ADA does to permit dogs qualifying as service animals on campus. It should also be noted, however, that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) has indicated that it applies a broader definition of “assistance animal” when enforcing Section 504 for reasonable accommodation purposes, in the housing context.
Requests to bring dogs and other service animals on college and university campuses are on the rise. These animals can make higher education institutions more accessible for students with disabilities and enrich educational communities by accommodating a broader range of students.
The Department of Justice’s recent clarification of the definition of “service animal” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the application of the Fair Housing Act to student housing – and suggests best practices for accommodating service and assistance animals on campus.
According to recent changes in access to classrooms for students with disabilities that use a service dog, one does not need permission from their campus’ Office for Disabled Students or ADA coordinator to take their service dog into classrooms on campus to attend lectures.
The only place a student may have issues is in laboratories-- but not all labs! Usually animal labs, chemistry labs, food labs or clinical nursing and other medical labs would have their own safety issues and protocols.
Laboratories can legally restrict a service dog from being brought into those types of settings. This is a safety issue not only for the students and faculty, but also for the service dog as well. There could be transmission of zoonotic diseases between laboratory animals and the service dog, or vice versa. Also, the presence of a service dog could agitate laboratory animals.
Further, chemicals and gases in some laboratory settings could pose a danger to one’s service dog. Some laboratories might allow a service dog into the area if the service dog is created, wearing boots, or have a protective covering over its body. Laboratories like climatology, geology, astronomy, or mannequin based labs usually don't pose a danger to a SD.
Eventually you will need to make a formal request for reasonable accommodation on your campus. The most common issue would be in regard to campus student housing. This would be done by contacting the Office for Disabled Students or the ADA Coordinator and you would submit a written request for the accommodation that you need: ie: to keep your service dog with you in your dormitory room on campus.
You might want to provide copies of ADA Laws, and DOJ guidance regarding SD definition and laws. Also, you could include the 2 questions gatekeepers are allowed to ask. Make your packet of information orderly with the links to the items you include.
Here is information you might want to include when requesting reasonable accommodation to keep your service dog in campus housing:
Your Student ID number
Your telephone number
Your email Addres
The date of your letter
To whom your letter is addressed to
The next part is the important part where you disclose you are a person with a disability, and state the reasonable accommodations you are requesting. You will need documentation that you have a disability, and have a need for the accommodations you are requesting. Your doctor can write a brief note on a prescription pad, or write a brief letter on his letterhead stationery verifying what you are requesting and why.
Your request for reasonable accommodation can be via email, or a formal letter sent requiring signature of receipt.