The U.S. Department of Justice writes that emotional support animals “provide comfort just by being with a person,” distinguishing them from service animals, which are “trained to perform a specific job or task” and have special protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
ESAs, however, do enjoy some accommodations. The federal Air Carrier Access Act has provisions for emotional support animals, which may fly with their owners provided there is adequate documentation (e.g., a note from a licensed health care professional) and/or sufficient notice. There are some restrictions, primarily size-related, on which animals are allowed to fly.
Disabled people with emotional support animals are protected in the realm of housing under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These accommodations have met controversy in some places. At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the question of whether college campuses must comply with the Fair Housing Act’s accommodation for ESAs ended up in court in 2013, where it was decided that the Act applies to student housing.
Some critics suggest that the designation is misused by people who might not have a genuine emotional need for an animal companion. Websites promise “hassle free emotional support animal registration” (for a fee). Vests and accessories emblazoned with “Emotional Support Animal” are readily available for purchase online.
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Source: Journalist’s Resource