City of Kingston offers insight into service animals for National AccessAbility Week

Service animals can be incredibly helpful for those living with a wide array of different abilities, but it is important for all members of a community to know some basic information about service animals and interacting with them, according to the City of Kingston. Photo by Brian Wangenheim.

Sunday, May 28 to Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023, marks AccessAbility Week 2023 across Canada, with this year’s theme being ‘Disability Inclusion: From Possibilities to Practice.’

According to the federal government, the week is meant to celebrate three things:

  • The valuable contributions and leadership of persons with disabilities in Canada
  • The work of allies, organizations, and communities that are removing barriers
  • Ongoing efforts to become a more accessible and inclusive Canada

“Our country’s strength lies in the diversity of its people – all its people. And we can all contribute to this vision,” the Government of Canada said of the 2023 AccessAbility Week theme.

For their part, the City of Kingston is launching an educational campaign for community members and businesses to learn about how service animals assist people who are differently abled.

While many are familiar with guide dogs being the perfect helping friend for those with vision loss or impairment, they are just one type of service animal.

“Service animals, such as guide dogs, can be used to assist people with a range of disabilities. This includes people who are blind or partially sighted, people with seizure disorders, people with mobility restrictions, people with post-traumatic stress disorder and people with other disabilities,” the City of Kingston said in a press release on Monday, May 29, 2023.

In an effort to make the Limestone City more accessible and inclusive, as per the mandate of National AccessAbility Week, the City is hoping to engage Kingstonians through its educational campaign on social media.

“Education is a critical part of making Kingston more accessible and inclusive,” Aimee Burtch, Chair of the City’s Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee, said in a statement.

“Knowing what to do when you see a service animal allows it to do its job and keep its owner safe. We also want to empower businesses with the skills to provide accessible customer service to people who are supported by a service animal.”

The City of Kingston provided the following five tips from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which are intended for guide dogs, but good practices applicable to all service dogs, according to the City:

  • Harness on means hands off. Petting can take the service animal’s focus off its owner and increase the potential for injury. Keep in mind that not all service animals wear a vest or harness.
  • Contain your excitement. Don’t encourage excitable play with a service animal. Staying calm is part of their job.
  • Say ‘hello’ another time. Keep your pet away to avoid distracting the service animal and possible harm to the owner.
  • Don’t feed them. Offering food to the animal can result in disruptive behaviours like begging and scavenging.
  • Speak to the person, not the animal. If a service animal approaches you, politely let the owner know so they may correct the animal. For all other interactions, it’s best to let the animal focus on their job.

The City of Kingston is also encouraging residents to watch and share the following video about interacting with people assisted by service animals:

Video via the City of Kingston YouTube channel.

According to the City, residents who encounter any barriers while accessing municipal services can report those incidents by calling 613-546-0000, or by submitting a request through the City of Kingston website.

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