Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why Do You Have a Service Dog?

A couple weeks ago, I went to have my biannual eye exam (yes, I know it is recommended annually but Medicaid will only pay for it every other year and since my prescription barely changes these days and I have no problems with my eyes, I only do it every other year).

While I was sitting in the waiting area, you know, waiting, the office manager came over to me and asked, "May I ask why you have a service dog?'

I gave him my standard answer.  "I don't share that information with people I don't know."

Yes, the ADA allows businesses to ask two questions for the purposes of "gate-keeping," making sure a dog is really a service dog, but that's not what he was doing.  And he wasn't asking one of those two questions, either.

He said he understood and left.

As soon as I got back into the exam room, the doctor asked me, "And why do you have a service dog?"

I sighed and said, "You know you aren't really supposed to ask that, right?  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are only allowed to ask two questions.  You can ask if it is a service dog and -"

She cut me off.  "You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

Well, I knew that.  Which is why I didn't answer.  But apparently she was in need of some education, so I wanted to offer that to her.  She was not interested in being educated, though.

"It's just that, in a medical setting, you know," she went on, making excuses that I wasn't buying.  "I wondered if there was some medical condition we should know about."

If that was true, then why not just ask that?  And why not ask it of all clients?  Why assume only clients with service dogs might have medical conditions?

"For instance," she went on, "if you have seizures, some of the tests we do, they could maybe trigger a seizure.  So it would be important to know about that."

If that was true, shouldn't they ask all clients if they have a history of seizures?  Not all people with seizure disorders have service dogs.  In fact, probably most don't.  Two years ago, though, when I was there without Isaac, no one asked me about seizures.

And if what you really want or need to know about is seizures, why not just ask about seizures?

I don't think she was really asking in order to get medical information.  If she was, well, there is a better, more appropriate, more respectful way to collect medical information.  And a way that doesn't violate the ADA.

Note that when I went to the ER recently, the day after my eye exam, in fact, no one there felt the need to ask why I have a service dog in order to gather the necessary medical information.  They just took a medical history, the same as they do for all patients.  My primary care physician has never asked why I have a service dog.  My rheumatologist has never asked.  They just took careful medical histories, like doctors should do with all patients.  If none of those medical professionals need to violate the ADA, and therefore violate my civil rights, by asking why I have a service dog, why should an eye doctor need to do so?

Edited to add: And yes, I am going to address this with them.  I called the next day to find out who was in charge, who I should speak to.  Turns out to be the office manager, the one that first asked me the inappropriate question.  Great.  But he was not in when I called.  I've tried calling two other times, plus I stopped by once, and have yet to catch him in the office.  He must not work very much.  But I will catch up to him.  I have printed out some educational material to give him and I plan to offer to speak to the entire staff at a staff meeting or training session.


  1. Interesting, in another post you said you wanted everybody to know you are disabled, yet when you have a chance to tell them, you do not!

    1. I did not say I wanted everyone to know I was disabled. I said I did not think it was a bad thing to be disabled and that I don't mind "looking" disabled.

      And I most certainly did tell the people at the eye doctor's office that I was disabled. Arriving with a service dog tells them I am disabled, since one must be disabled in order to have a service dog.

      What I did not tell them is what my disability is, because legally I am not required to and because legally they are not supposed to ask. By asking, they were violating my civil rights. I choose not to allow my civil rights to be violated.