EP #28 – Understanding ADA Laws On Service Animals in Hotels

Soy Williams joins Susan Pannozzo on Hospitality Academy to talk about service animals and ADA regulations in the hospitality industry.How confident are you that your hotel has the right policy in place with regard to ADA Laws on service animals?  Even if you think you are in compliance, you’ll want to listen to today’s guest, Soy Williams.

Soy is an expert in the field of disability rights, and today she’s here to share the dos and donts of service animals staying in your hotel.

On this episode of Hospitality Academy, Soy explains what you are allowed to ask a guest about their service animal and what the American Disabilities Act (ADA) is and why it is the highest law of the land.

She also distinguishes the differences between service animals and comfort animals and your legal obligations regarding both. Tune in for that and more from today’s edition of Hospitality Academy!


Essential Learning Points From This Episode:

  • What constitutes a service animal?
  • What two questions are you allowed to ask about a guest’s service animal?
  • Is there a distinction between service animals and comfort animals?
  • Can someone have more than one service animal?
  • What is the issue Soy sees most often regarding hotels and service animals?
  • And so much more!

Soy Williams is a licensed architect, whose worked extensively regarding building codes and disability rights within her field. At UC Berkeley she became an advocate for disability rights and in her post-collegiate years, she volunteered for the Commission on Disabilities in Hawaii. That experience led her to focus on disabilities rights and accessibility, and later working for the federal agency, the United States Access Board via a presidential appointment.

Since then she’s also worked for organizations that write model building codes, done work on Capitol Hill with lawmakers, and worked with Paralyzed Veterans of America. With an emphasis on architectural needs, she has long been a staunch advocate for persons with disabilities.

With her background experience and knowledge, she was the perfect person to join today’s episode of Hospitality Academy and discuss ADA regulations regarding service animals in hotels and other hospitality organizations.

She explains the specific ADA requirements regarding service animals in hotels: the broad requirement is you have to modify your policies and procedures to accommodate individuals who have service animals. So everywhere that a hospitality guest goes the service animal has to be permitted, with the exception of a swimming pool for guests. Otherwise, the animal must be allowed in locker rooms, restaurants, fitness areas, and even the pool deck (but not in the pool).

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The ADA is the federal law and must be honored everywhere, it cannot be any less enforced or upheld in any part of the country but other additions can be added on to it. For example, Soy explains that some states will actually penalize people who lie about their animal actually being a service animal.

When I asked her what defines a service animal she says today a service animal is a dog (or miniature horse) that has been individually trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The training is the critical piece, they must be trained to do something for the person with a disability.

And if you are wondering what you are allowed to ask of the guest to prove they are a service animal, there are two questions you can ask. There’s nothing cut and dry like a piece of paper that documents or certifies the animal as a service animal, nor are there specific types of dress (like vests). Nor are there organizations that will certify an animal on a mandatory basis, so you must rely on the following two questions you can ask.

First, it is legal to ask the guest if their animal is required because of a disability. It is okay to ask this because they may have a disability that is not readily apparent: it may be neurological, psychological, sensory, etc. However, it must be in the form of a yes or no question; you are not allowed to ask the person what their disability is.

The other question you can ask is what work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Some of these activities aren’t readily apparent: they may need help keeping their balance while they walk or the dog may alert the person before they have a seizure or a panic attack. Or the task may be obvious like the dog is there to pull their wheelchair.

In addition to these two questions, Soy differentiates an emotional support animal from a service animal and what legal obligations you have regarding the emotional support animal. She also clarifies how to handle damages done by service animals and whether or not you can charge a pet deposit for them.

Listen in to hear that and to hear why you can never turn someone away because they have a service animal. It’s all here on today’s episode of Hospitality Academy with Soy Williams!

Important Links & Mentions From This Episode:


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