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Assisting Individuals and their Guide Dogs
In the event of an emergency, Guide Dog users who are blind or have low vision need to work together with First Responders/Emergency Shelter personnel. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Emergency Management Ontario, and the Red Cross all provide instructions on how these groups need to work together. The American Red Cross, for example, points out that "Service animals assisting people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in a Red Cross shelter."
If you are called upon to assist an individual with a Guide Dog, here are some common principles:
- Some people who are legally blind have some sight, while others are totally blind.
- When meeting a visually impaired person; announce your presence, speak out, and then enter the area.
- Speak naturally and directly to the individual; do not shout.
- Don't be afraid to use words like "See," "Look," or "Blind."
- State the nature of the emergency; provide details to help the person to see and comprehend what is going on.
- Offer assistance but let the person explain what help is needed. Don't grab or attempt to guide them; ask first if they require assistance. Offer them your arm. The person will grasp your arm or shoulder lightly for guidance. As you walk, advise them of any obstacles. Be sure to mention approaching stairs, doorways, curbs and ramps, etc. in advance.
- If the person has a Guide Dog don't pet it unless the owner says it is OK to do so. A Guide Dog is NOT a pet. A service animal has been highly trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability.
- Do not give food or treats to the Guide Dog without the permission of the owner.
- Service animals come in all breeds and sizes. Most people are familiar with dogs that guide people. Many of the service dogs will be identified because they are wearing a special harness. Guide Dog owners are being encouraged to have written identification for their dogs.
- Plan to evacuate the Guide Dog with its owner. Do not separate them!
- Service animals may not be registered and may not have any ID, so trust its owner. However, if the animal is out of control or presents a threat to the individual or others, remove it from the site.
- Most community agencies instruct their shelter staff that, if there are any doubts as to the degree of a person's disability, wait until arrival at the destination and address the issue with the shelter supervisor in charge. The ADA and other managers may modify their "No Pet" policies to welcome persons who use service animals. A person who requires a service animal is not required to give you proof of a disability.
- When a dog is wearing its harness, it is on duty. In the event you are asked to take the dog while assisting the individual, hold the leash not the harness.
- Service animals will need to have access to dog food and clean water.
- A service animal must be in a harness or on a leash, but need not be muzzled.
- "Emergency Preparedness and Response for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2006", enacted by the 109th Congress, Second Session.
- "Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act", June 13, 2005.