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FAQs about Assistance Animals on campus

Below are some of the frequently asked questions Disability Practitioners ask about in relation to assistance animals. This page includes information about:

  • relevant legislation covering assistance animals
  • types of assistance animals
  • health and safety considerations
  • training and accreditation guidelines
  • assistance animals in accommodation
  • guide dog etiquette.

What is the key legislation covering assistance animals?

Disability legislation

In addition to the Disability Discrimination Act practitioners should be aware that each State or Territory has its own legislation relating to disability, assistance dogs and separate state legislation relating to animal welfare.

Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 

What about assistance animals that are not dogs?

Disability practitioners report birds, ferrets, rats, pigs, cats, rabbits (banned in Queensland), turtles and snakes. This is where the difference between an assistance animal and an emotional support or companion animal lies.

Two areas to consider:

  • Returning to the DSE definition around reasonable adjustments, does this adjustment fulfil the criteria around the effect on the student’s ability to achieve learning outcomes, participation in courses or programs, and level of independence weighed against how other staff and students may be impacted. Is there a more appropriate reasonable adjustment or alternative?

  • Under the DDA Section 9(2) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 does the animal alleviate the effect of the disability and meet the standards of hygiene and behaviour. Can these other animals interact safely in the learning or working environment?

One could argue that most of these other animals may provide emotional support but are not fit for anything other than companionship. There is limited evidence to suggest these animals perform legitimate medical alert or assistance roles. In the case of the menagerie of animals mentioned above many are unpredictable. In most cases they cannot be leashed or controlled, trained to respond to commands, present issues of animal welfare (e.g., easily startled or skittish), and pose an unreasonable risk to others.

What about health and safety?

As with all reasonable adjustments the impact on the adjustment on all staff and students and the assistance animal needs to be considered. For example, could the assistance animal and/or the person with disability be at risk from dangerous chemicals or materials, biohazard risks, risks in restricted areas such as construction sites, laboratories or restricted health facilities may make the presence of an assistance animal a hazard under provisions of relevant state or national health and safety legislation. 

Health and safety hazards need to be balanced against rights under the Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Standards for Education. It is important to discuss alternative reasonable adjustments with the person with disability if there are health and safety concerns and come to a practical, safe and effective resolution which is not discriminatory.

If there is a chance that other people may be impacted e.g., people with phobias or allergies, the onus would be on the person with the allergy or phobia to provide medical evidence and be offered reasonable adjustments in study or work environments.

Can students leave their assistance animal unattended?

It depends. The role of an assistance animal is to support a person with disability to be independent and separating the animal from their partner is not recommended and, in some cases, unlawful.

Education providers should ensure that owners always maintain responsibility for their assistance animal. For both the welfare of the owner and their assistance animal they should be kept together.

There are limited exceptions to this such as working in restricted areas such where the animal may be exposed to hazards. Such restrictions would be managed by Health and Safety staff within the institution and related to areas such as some laboratories or spaces with biohazardous materials that require students to wear personal protection equipment (PPE), construction sites, restricted areas in health facilities and so on.

Disability practitioners should discuss options to support the student with disability to attend all these activities with an alternative option such as a participation assistant or other student or staff member. An additional arrangement would also need to be made to mind the assistant animal, or have it restrained in an area, during the period of separation.

In rare cases if an assistant animal is unattended, it may be due to an incident (e.g., the owner has had a medical episode or has been separated from their assistance animal by misfortune). In such cases security and relevant disability support staff should be alerted.

What if our institution only wants to accept trained or accredited animals?

Keeping in mind your institution’s responsibilities under the DDA your institution should balance this with your institution’s policy framework, reasonable adjustments guidelines, health and safety, and risk mitigation as mentioned above. Your institution should state this clearly in your policy but also be open to considering additional training providers. For further information visit Assistance animals | Disability Gateway

What about assistance animals in training?

Like fully trained assistance animals Disability Practitioners do get requests for staff or students to bring trainee guide dogs or assistance animals on campus. It is up to the institution to decide if the trainee is suitably trained to interact with other staff and students and complies with hygiene and behaviour standards under the DDA. The socialisation of these guide dogs is to support more people with disability to access education and training providers so supporting the lengthy and expensive training for assistance animals is a positive thing for an education provider to support.

Are there any national guidelines for assistance animals?

Officials from all states and territories have been working together with relevant Commonwealth agencies to work towards consistent standards – especially in relation to accreditation and training. The public consultation through DSS Engage, undertaken between March and May 2021, was part of this work to seek information about the issues arising from differences in assistance animal regulation and legislation between jurisdictions. Uncertainty for assistance animal users and businesses has also been identified in the consultations. The Commonwealth will continue to facilitate discussions with state and territory officials to consider options for national consistency.

National consistency will not diminish state/territory responsibility for the registration of assistance animals. Any concerns or issues should be directed to the relevant state or territory authority.

Below is some useful information around guidelines:

  • The Australian Government Disability Gateway has information about assistance animals that may inform education providers on their own policies for assistance animals on campus.
  • A Trainers of Assistance Dogs Project is also in development with completion due in 2024.
  • There is also a number of providers that have Assistance Animal policies or information that might prove useful.

    Can students have their assistance animal in their accommodation?

    Yes. If a student lives in on-campus accommodation, student accommodation affiliates, or a private accommodation provider then it is unlawful to deny access to the student or their assistance animal.

    It is also unlawful to charge students with disability additional fees or charges for accommodation because of disability.

    Some things to consider:

    • The accommodation should provide options for the animal to have a specific space for toileting, water and waste disposal. 

    • Arrangements should be made for orientation within the accommodation and to and from campus. In the case of most providers of assistance dogs for the blind, this can be provided by the organisation that provides the dog. In other cases, orientation may need to be provided by staff or trained and designated student volunteer. 

    • Accommodation providers should work with the person with disability and their animal to develop any plans to support the student with reasonable adjustments and to manage animal welfare within the accommodation. 

    • Other students living in accommodation or dormitories should be provided with information on appropriate interactions with assistance animals. There is useful information about guide dog etiquette below.