Senate Bill 220 Would Treat Autistic Individuals Using an Assistance Dog Equally Under the Law
We have all at one time or another seen a person with an assistance dog. These specially-trained animals help individuals with a seizure disorder, vision or hearing impairments or who have other conditions that limit their physical abilities live more active and independent lives.
Recently, assistance dogs have also been used to help individuals with autism. Dogs can be trained to help keep an autistic person safe in large open areas, to redirect repetitive or aggressive behaviors or to calm the person down if they become agitated. The presence of an assistance dog can also provide increased social interactions with others while the person is at school or at work.
While not every person with autism utilizes an assistance dog, those that do often benefit from the additional social and sensory interaction they have when the dog is present. Unfortunately, because autism is not included in Ohio’s laws pertaining to the use of assistance dogs, these individuals could face unequal treatment under the law.
To help clarify this situation and ensure that people with autism who use an assistance dog are able to take their dog anywhere they need to go, I introduced Senate Bill 220 last year. This bill seeks to include people diagnosed with autism in the definition of “mobility impaired person” as it relates to the laws governing assistance dogs.
I personally have seen the difference an assistance dog can make in the life of a person with autism. Some constituents of mine in Springboro have an autistic son, and use an assistance dog to help keep him calm and safe during the day. The dog accompanies him to school and has been trained to reduce emotional outbursts by pawing at him or licking him. The dog also provides a sense of spatial reference when the family is travelling through airports or other open spaces.
The family recently came to the Statehouse to testify in support of Senate Bill 220, and I want to thank them for sharing how an autism assistance dog has benefitted them and how the bill could help other families in similar situations.
Autism is a complex disorder with a wide range of symptoms that affects people differently. Senate Bill 220 will allow those individuals who benefit from the presence of an assistance dog to use the dog in all environments, helping them become more independent and increasing their overall quality of life. Senate Bill 220 is currently under discussion in the Senate Health, Human Services and Aging Committee, and similar legislation has also been introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about any state-related matter. You can reach my office by phone at (614) 466-9737, by e-mail at SD07@senate.state.oh.us or by writing State Senator Shannon Jones, Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215. I look forward to hearing from you.
Image by Randy Son Of Robert via Flickr