Disability Rights Montana envisions a society where people with disabilities have equality of opportunity and are able to participate fully in community life by exercising choice and self-determination. Click here to see our mission and philosophies, or click here to request our services.
Links to other Services
Low Income Housing Resources: US Department of Housing and Urban Development; HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
Montana Housing: The Housing Division creates affordable housing opportunities for Montanans whose needs are not met by the market. We use several federal funding sources to accomplish this.
Community Partners: Many of these organizations are partners with the Montana Board of Housing and the Section 8 Programs and offer services and resources to those who benefit from the availability of affordable housing in Montana.
USDA Rural Development: USDA’s Rural Housing Service offers programs to build or improve housing and essential community facilities in rural areas. They offer loans, grants and loan guarantees for single- and multi-family housing, child care centers, fire and police stations, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, schools, first responder vehicles and equipment, housing for farm laborers and much more. They also provide technical assistance loans and grants in partnership with non-profit organizations, Indian tribes, state and federal government agencies, and local communities.
Rocky Mountain Development Council, Inc: Rocky Mountain Development Council offers a monthly Homebuyer Education class. The purpose of the class is to teach potential homeowners about the process of purchasing a home; Rocky Mountain Development Council Inc. operates six apartment complexes in Helena. These include Eagle Manor Residences, Ptarmigan Residences, Pheasant Glen Residences, and River Rock Residences. RMDC’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) is designed to assist low income households meet the expenses of keeping warm during the cold months.
Know your Rights
Montana Tenants’ Rights & Duties Handbook: The Montana Legal Services Association developed this handbook to help residential tenants understand and exercise their rights and responsibilities under the Montana Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. This handbook is intended to provide general guidance only. It is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.
Montana Fair Housing: A full service, private, non-profit organization dedicated to the reduction and eradication of housing discrimination in our state.
Montana Legal Services Association: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) is a law firm that empowers low-income people by providing legal information, advice, and other services free of charge. MLSA works both on individual cases and under a systemic approach to help low-income people escape domestic violence, keep their housing, preserve their public benefits, protect their finances, and more.
Emotional Support and Service Animals
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects a person with a disability from discrimination in obtaining housing. Under this law, a landlord or homeowner’s association must provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities so that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling. Emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA may nevertheless qualify as reasonable accommodations under the FHA. Service animals that assist persons with disabilities are considered to be auxiliary aids and are exempt from the pet policy and from the refundable pet deposit in federally funded housing. In cases when a person with a disability uses a service animal or an emotional support animal, a reasonable accommodation may include waiving a no-pet rule or a pet deposit. It would contravene the purpose of the statutory protections afforded people with disabilities to allow a landlord to charge a deposit at the outset, in the absence of any significant damage.
In Montana, a person with a disability who has a service animal or who obtains a service animal is entitled to full and equal access to all housing accommodations. The person with a disability may not be required to pay extra compensation for the service animal but is liable for any damage done to the premises by the service animal.
Emotional Support animals vs. Service Animals – What is the difference?
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
(also known as: Comfort – Companion)
(NOT ALLOWED IN MOTELS)
An Emotional Support Animal is a pet that provides disability-relieving emotional support to an individual, but is not necessarily trained to do so. Unlike with service dogs, service dog laws do not allow emotional support animals (ESAs) to go out in public to places dogs are normally prohibited. ESA owners do have certain legal rights in housing situations and when flying (see further FAQ questions below), though ESAs are supposed to be public access trained for flight access (reference below).
Emotional support animals can be important residential companions for people with disabilities ESAs can mitigate. Some may even have the temperament to undergo the training needed to work as a psychiatric service dog.
What is a Therapy Dog?
(NOT ALLOWED IN MOTELS)
A Therapy Dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and in stressful situations, such as disaster areas.
Unlike a service dog, a therapy dog is a pet trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy dogs are also trained to behave safely around all sorts of people, and are often certified.
A therapy dog handler is not given public access rights by any service dog laws to take the dog out everywhere like service dog users, because the handler does not have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy dogs are only allowed into places like hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and libraries by prior agreement (again, not by service dog laws).
Service dogs are generally trained to ignore other people—the opposite of therapy dogs.
What is a Service Animal?
(Also Known as: Psychiatric)
(ALLOWED IN MOTELS)
Service Animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities – such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
With Service Dogs and dogs in training (allowed in Montana), the dog is expected to be safe in a public, and the person is liable for any damages caused by the dog. A service dog can be any breed and the person may have an invisible disability.
What is a Skilled Companion Dog?
(NOT ALLOWED IN MOTELS)
Companion Dogs are calm tempered, loving, and highly trained companions that provide therapeutic, physiological and psychological support to children and adults with special needs, under the direction of a facilitator. A facilitator is generally a parent or partner who is solely responsible for handling the Skilled Companion Dog and the provision of all care and ongoing training needs.
Service Animal Defined by Title II and Title III of the ADA
A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.
In Montana, a service animal is a dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal. Emotional support animals are not service animals. Under Title II and III of the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs. However, entities must make reasonable modifications in policies to allow individuals with disabilities to use miniature horses if they have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities.
The ADA requires the animal to be under the control of the handler. The handler is responsible for the care and supervision of his or her service animal. If a service animal behaves in an unacceptable way and the person with a disability does not control the animal, a business or other entity does not have to allow the animal onto its premises. Uncontrolled barking, jumping on other people, or running away from the handler are examples of unacceptable behavior for a service animal. A business has the right to deny access to a dog that disrupts their business. Businesses, public programs, and transportation providers may exclude a service animal when the animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. The animal must be housebroken.
Public Facilities and Accommodations
Titles II and III of the ADA makes it clear that service animals are allowed in public facilities and accommodations. A service animal must be allowed to accompany the handler to any place in the building or facility where members of the public, program participants, customers, or clients are allowed. Even if the business or public program has a “no pets” policy, it may not deny entry to a person with a service animal.
When a person with a service animal enters a public facility or place of public accommodation, the person cannot be asked about the nature or extent of his disability. Only two questions may be asked:
- Is the animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
A public accommodation or facility is not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Local laws that prohibit specific breeds of dogs do not apply to service animals.
A place of public accommodation or public entity may not ask an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge.
Laws prohibit employment discrimination because of a disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation. Allowing an individual with a disability to have a service animal or an emotional support animal accompany them to work may be considered an accommodation. In the case of a service animal or an emotional support animal, if the disability is not obvious and/or the reason the animal is needed is not clear, an employer may request documentation to establish the existence of a disability and how the animal helps the individual perform his or her job. Both service and emotional support animals may be excluded from the workplace if they pose either an undue hardship or a direct threat in the workplace.
Service animals in public schools (K-12)13 – The ADA permits a student with a disability who uses a service animal to have the animal at school. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act allow a student to use an animal that does not meet the ADA definition of a service animal if that student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 team decides the animal is necessary for the student to receive a free and appropriate education. Where the ADA applies, however, schools should be mindful that the use of a service animal is a right that is not dependent upon the decision of an IEP or Section 504 team.
Service animals in postsecondary education settings – Under the ADA, colleges and universities must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility that are open to the public or to students. Higher education institutions may not require any documentation about the training or certification of a service animal.
A person traveling with a service animal cannot be denied access to transportation, even if there is a “no pets” policy. In addition, the person with a service animal cannot be forced to sit in a particular spot; no additional fees can be charged because the person uses a service animal; and the customer does not have to provide advance notice that s/he will be traveling with a service animal. The laws apply to both public and private transportation providers and include subways, fixed-route buses, Paratransit, rail, light-rail, taxicabs, shuttles and limousine services.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to allow service animals and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers in the cabin of the aircraft.
Service animals – For evidence that an animal is a service animal, air carriers may ask to see identification cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or tags, or ask for verbal assurances from the individual with a disability using the animal. If airline personnel are uncertain that an animal is a service animal, they may ask one of the following:
- What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?
- What has your animal been trained to do for you?
- Would you describe how the animal performs this task for you? 15
Emotional support and psychiatric service animals – Individuals who travel with emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals may need to provide specific documentation to establish that they have a disability and the reason the animal must travel with them.
Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. If a person is at risk of a significant allergic reaction to an animal, it is the responsibility of the business or government entity to find a way to accommodate both the individual using the service animal and the individual with the allergy.
Title II and III of the ADA does not cover “service animals in training” but several states have laws when they should be allowed access. Montana requires that a service animal in training shall wear a leash, collar, cape, harness, or backpack that identifies in writing that the dog is a service animal in training. Other service animals in training must also be identifiable by written identification as a service animal in training. The written identification for service animals in training must be visible and legible from a distance of at least 20 feet.
Request a Reasonable Accommodation
Your Right to Accommodation
In human rights terms, accommodation is the word used to describe the duties of an employer, service provider or landlord to give equal access to people who are protected by the ADA. To be protected, you must be a qualified individual with a disability. This means that you must have a disability as defined by the ADA. Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking, walking, breathing, or performing manual tasks.
The duty to accommodate recognizes that people have different needs and require different solutions to gain equal access to services, housing and employment. To accommodate someone means to remove the barriers which prevent people from gaining access to jobs, housing, and the use of goods, services and facilities (e.g. public transit or schools).
If you are a person who has ADA-protected rights, this means that an employer, service provider or landlord has a positive duty to change the way they provide workspace, services, or housing (e.g. by making physical changes or by changing their practices or policies) to make it easier or possible for you to participate in the workplace, participate in the service or facility or access housing.
What needs can be accommodated?
The duty to accommodate can arise in different situations as a result of a person’s disability, age, religion, marital status, immigration status, ethnic or racial identity or family obligations or other factors listed in the ADA.
Most commonly, the duty to accommodate arises in the employment context where an employee suffers a disability such as an injury, illness or addiction that prevents him or her from continuing to do his job in the same manner as before. Even though the employee is no longer able to perform in the same way, the employer may not fire him or her without first providing reasonable opportunities for rehabilitation or alternative work.
Is accommodation the same for everyone?
No. Accommodation will be different for each person, even if they have the same disability. For example, two employees might have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The employer can’t say, “Oh, when Mary got MS all she needed was an extra 15 minute break every day, so John’s going to get the same thing.” The nature of the accommodation required will vary according to your unique needs and these needs must be considered, assessed, and accommodated individually.
What are some examples of the duty to accommodate?
The kind of accommodation that is required will depend on the circumstances of the particular situation. Some examples of accommodation could include:
- Building a wheelchair access ramp
- Flexibility in work hours or break times
- Providing sign language interpreters for persons who are deaf so they can participate in meetings
- Job restructuring, retraining or assignment to an alternative position
- Allowing an employee to wear a hijab even though the employer wants all employees to wear the same corporate attire
- Allowing a pregnant employee to attend doctor appointments
- Allowing an employee to not work on certain holidays
How do I get the accommodation I need?
There are a number of steps you should take in order to make sure that your need for accommodation is dealt with properly.
- Ask for the accommodation
- Explain why you need it (try to do this in writing)
- Provide information that is directly relevant to your needs, restrictions or limitations (this can include medical information, but only the information that is directly related to your request for accommodation)
- Participate in discussions about possible accommodation solutions
- Co-operate with any experts whose assistance is required
- Try different forms of accommodation even if it is not the perfect accommodation
- If you are an employee in a union, it would be a good idea to contact your union representative. Your union will often have good advice about your employer’s procedures for getting accommodation.
What should the employer, landlord or service provider do after I make my request for accommodation?
Once you make your request for accommodation, the employer, service provider or landlord should:
- Accept the accommodation request in good faith, unless there are legitimate reasons for acting otherwise
- Understand someone might not use the word “accommodation” when they are looking to be served in a way that meets their needs
- Obtain expert opinion or advice where needed
- Take an active role in exploring a range of options
- Keep a record of the accommodation request and action taken
- Maintain confidentiality
- Limit their requests for information (e.g. medical reports) to those directly related to your needs, limitations or restrictions
- Grant accommodation requests in a timely manner
- Pay for the cost of the required medical information or documentation
If the accommodation would cause “undue hardship” (see definition below) such as extreme financial costs, explain this clearly and be prepared to demonstrate why they cannot provide the accommodation
How far does the duty to accommodate go?
The duty to accommodate is not unlimited. The limit to the duty to accommodate is called “undue hardship.” An employer, landlord or service provider is not required to accommodate a person’s needs beyond the point at which the accommodation would cause “undue hardship” to the business or operation.