fbpx

What is Disney’s policy on Emotional Support Animals?

by Attractions Magazine Staff

One of the reasons Orlando’s theme parks are so highly regarded is their commitment to accessibility. Guests of all needs are welcome. Walt Disney World has a reputation for its excellent accessibility, but if you’re not very familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act there can be some ambiguity about Disney’s policy on emotional support animals.

emotional support animals

By Dani Dennison Meyering

It is important to note that Walt Disney World has the final say about their guidelines and policy. This article is not meant to take the place of Disney’s information posted on their official website. To contact Disney directly you can reach Disability Services at (407) 560-2547 or email [email protected].

According to the official Americans with Disabilities Act website, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

As of March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. According to Disney’s official website, miniature horses that are trained as service animals are permitted. The official ADA website does indicate that miniature horses that meet certain criteria, should be permitted in the same way as a service dog.

Those that are seeking information as to if an emotional support animal would be permitted should consider this additional information from the official ADA website:

A service animal must be under the control of its handler. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of tasks. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

Many guests wonder what Disney staff or other employees are allowed to ask regarding a service or emotional support animal. According to the ADA website:

Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

All Disney cast members are generally trained under these guidelines, but should a guest have any concerns it is recommended that they speak to Guest Relations or a member of management.

According to Disney’s official website, “Service animals must be under the control of the owner at all times and should remain on a leash or in a harness. Cast members are not able to take control of service animals.” This policy does align with the standard set forth in ADA titles II and III.

Due to the nature of some attractions, service animals may not be permitted to ride. At these locations, cast members can offer options to accommodate your party. These options include a Rider Switch pass for anyone who waits with the service animal outside the attraction while other members of the party enjoy the attraction. The Rider Switch allows the holder to then take their turn on the ride without having to wait in the regular standby line. Another option is the use of a portable kennel at the ride’s boarding and unloading area where the animal can wait while their party rides.

Disney does have multiple areas accessible in the park that service animals can use for rest and relief. These areas are marked with a sign visible inside the park, and generally lead to areas that are “backstage,” away from view of most guest areas. Guest Relations can assist with showing guests where these areas are located.

There are four Disney owned and operated resort hotels that are designated dog-friendly accommodations, including:

  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
  • Disney Port Orleans Resort Riverside
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  • The Cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort

Whether you’re traveling with your pet or a service animal, these designated dog-friendly Disney Resort hotels offer great convenience for those traveling with dogs. Amenities include guest rooms that have easy outdoor access for exercise and green spaces for pet relief, as well as special welcome package. Only a portion of each dog-friendly resort is available for dogs in order to help protect guests with dog allergies.

emotional support animals

When reviewing this information about service animals and emotional support animals, it’s good to remember that according to the ADA, as of March 15, 2011, only dogs and certain miniature horses are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. Any other animal’s admission is purely at the discretion of the private property operator.

In summary, if you’re wondering if Disney allows emotional support animals, the answer is “it depends.” Disney officially allows support animals, specifically dogs and miniature horses, that are trained to do work or perform specific tasks. Furthermore, the animal needs to be leashed or harnessed and be under the control of the owner at all times. Emotional support animals that meet this criteria will most likely be welcomed.

It’s important to point out that Disney’s guidelines apply to all of Walt Disney World Resort, including Disney Springs, and their four dog-friendly resort hotels. If you are unsure if an animal meets this criteria it is recommended that you contact Disney’s Disability Services department well in advance of a visit for assistance.

Ad1

Related Articles

10 comments

Howard Moon October 16, 2020 - 4:15 pm

You use the term Support Animal, Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal interchangeably. They are not – Service Animals are granted public access with their handlers. Emotional Support Animals are not granted public access. ESAs are covered in certain housing and travel situations like airplanes. ESAs are not Service Animals and are not granted public access with their handlers. I use a Service Animal. Disney has always accommodated my Service Animal when I visit there.

Reply
Dani October 16, 2020 - 4:26 pm

Hi there Howard, thanks so much for reading and thanks for your comment. During my time working at Disney and in the hospitality industry, this topic was one that can be sensitive to some folks. With that in mind, it was my goal with this post to point out that Disney’s policy pertains to Service Animals. It was not my intent to use the term Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal interchangeably, but rather to highlight the specific criteria an animal must meet in order to be a Service Animal and to point out that Disney’s policy only applies to such. I appreciate you taking the time to share your comment as well as your experience with Disney accommodating your Service Animal when you visit.

Reply
Louise Herrick October 17, 2020 - 12:21 pm

I really admire these clever dogs but have never heard of horses doing the same job. I’d love to see one of them in WDW!

Reply
Service Dog Handler October 17, 2020 - 2:40 pm

The answer is not “it depends”; the answer is a clear no! Pets are not allowed, and emotional support animals are pets who are owned by people who have mental disabilities. Only task-trained service animals are allowed in the parks and other no-pets areas. Service animals are dogs that have gone through one to two years of training to behave impeccably in public and do tasks that directly relate to the handler’s disability, such as guide a person who is visually impaired, alert to a myriad of conditions like diabetes or seizures or panic attacks, help a person with balance, retrieve items, and much more.

Also, unlike with children who cannot go on rides so the parents get Rider Swap passes, service animals do not wait outside of the line/ride because the handler needs them in the line. The rider swap is done at the boarding area, and if the exit is different from the boarding area, the party waiting with the dog is taken to the exit area, then back to the boarding area once the handler is back so they can ride.

Reply
Dani October 17, 2020 - 3:02 pm

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, this is exactly why I included the exact wording from the ADA website and the exact wording from Disney’s website in this post. That way there is no confusion as to exactly what the criteria is that a service animal must meet. Thanks for providing your additional information and taking the time to share your experience.

Reply
Lee & Murphy October 18, 2020 - 5:45 pm

Disney theme parks allow only service dogs and miniature horses, not emotional support animals. Hotels at Disney abide by ESA laws. There is no “it depends”. I’ve been to Disney several times with my service dog and it is a pleasure not seeing untrained ESA’s everywhere. Many service dog teams meet up at Disney where only the very best of service dogs and handlers can be seen. Disney does an extremely good job of keeping ESA’s out of their theme parks and they go above and beyond to help those with disabilities.
It’s a nice place to spend the day with a service dog.

Reply
Dani October 18, 2020 - 7:21 pm

Wholeheartedly agree, Lee & Murphy. It is great that Disney is both accommodating to all guests who abide by their policies, but they also hold true to the information in Title II and Title III of the ADA. The reason I selected the phrase “it depends” was so readers could feel comfortable learning about what the definition of a Service Animal is according to the ADA and Disney’s policy. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and taking the time to share your experience.

Reply
Raina October 18, 2020 - 10:32 pm

As a legal advocate specializing in service dog law, this is a swing and a miss.

You are essentially saying Disney’s policy is cloudy.

It most certainly is not. It’s very express.

Every friend I have who handles a legitimate service dog, not emotional support animal, that goes to Disney has had negative interactions with pets in the park. And it’s because of people spreading misinformation like this.

The federal law very clearly defined what a service dog/mini is. A task trained animal that does work specifically to mitigate the handler’s disability that isn’t aggressive or a nuisance and is properly housebroken. Disney adheres to that standard, as you stated.

An ESA doesn’t even, legally, have to be housebroken/non aggressive/not a nuisance or be trained to behave and do a job. They’re ONLY allowed in housing and on flights with appropriate documentation from a practitioner/provider who is actively treating you and pet friendly places.

Disney is not pet friendly. If the animal is not trained to do actual tasks and meet the minimum of federally ascribed standards, it cannot be in Disney.

Your article basically encourages people to bring pets where they are not allowed and actively harm service dog teams. “Call disney and ask” encourages that by telling people they can find loopholes that don’t exist. With even a modicum of intelligence a person can pass their poorly behaved pet off as a service dog by saying “Customer service said I could”, then their pet charges, bites, or otherwise interferes with a service dog – which can actually be lethal.

A visually impaired person’s guide being thrown off by being startled by a poorly controlled pet charging aggressively could be led into an obstacle and injured. A cue given off by a person with epilepsy can be missed in the split second a service dog concerned about an aggressive dog and the person won’t get the warning of an incoming seizure and seize and crash to the ground and be injured or die. A person with PTSD can be severely triggered by an unpleasant interaction with pet owners and nuisance pets. We shouldn’t have to suffer because someone selfishly brought their untrained animal, which is what an ESA is outside of housing or an airplane, where it shouldn’t be.

Service dogs, despite two years of training are still dogs and can be temporarily distracted by these scary interactions momentarily. Injuries from those interactions can physically or psychologically harm our service dogs to the extent of needing to be retired. The wait for a replacement is anywhere from 2-5 years…

Instead of saying the policy, which is in line with federal and state laws, is hazy – why not encourage people with pets to make sure they don’t bring them to the parks except pet friendly places. Then they don’t face expulsion from the parks, a ruined vacation, and the legal penalties imposed under laws for impersonating a pet as a service dog/mini. A large fine is generally not what people want to deal with on a vacation.

Reply
Dani October 19, 2020 - 8:41 am

Raina, thanks so much for taking the time to share your comment. Please note that I did not use the words “cloudy”. I used the words “there can be some ambiguity” After working in Orlando’s hospitality industry for 15 years, I worked with many guests who had a variety of questions. This is why I chose to include the exact words from the ADA Website and from Disney’s website.

The ADA Website states: “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

This wording is in the beginning of this post.

It is certainly not my intent to imply that ESAs are allowed. This is also why I included Disney’s policy word for word.

I appreciate you taking the time to share all of your thoughts and concerns. Thank you for the important work and advocacy that you do.

Reply
Jon April 13, 2021 - 11:44 pm

Every single comment responding to your post has said it’s misleading; your refusal to acknowledge this suggests you know it but don’t care. By using the phrases “emotional service animal”, “it depends”, and “Disney officially allows support animals” you’re implying something which is false, and unambiguously so. You’re raising hopes in people with ESAs which can’t be satisfied without them lying to Disney personnel. Whether or not an animal is an ESA is wholly irrelevant here; that is not grounds for admission under law or Disney policy. Service animals which meet clear criteria are welcomed. Emotional support animals, unless they happen to actually be service animals under the law and Disney’s policy, are not.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Email Newsletter Signup

Get the latest news direct to your inbox.
Simply submit your email address below.