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NPR: Bringing Service Animals Into The Lab

Before they enter the research lab where they spend most work days, Joey Ramp outfits Sampson with his own personal safety gear: goggles, a lab coat, and four boots — one for each paw. Sampson is a service dog. If Ramp, Sampson's owner, has her way, service animals like Sampson will become a much more common sight in university and professional laboratories.

Ramp is a former horse trainer and a current researcher at Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A traumatic horse training accident in 2006 left her with lasting physical and psychological trauma. She now uses a service dog to help her balance while she's walking, pick things up for her, and assist in situations that might trigger her PTSD.


Although Ramp's service dog enables her to navigate the world more freely, when she decided to go back to school to study neuroscience, bringing Sampson along became one of her biggest educational obstacles. Ramp's chosen scientific discipline requires her to be in a lab, but she's had inconsistent support from faculty and administrators, who can be unsure of how to bring service animals into a lab safely. According to Ramp, her current university had questions when she first enrolled: What if the dog gets in the way? What if someone has allergies, or is afraid of dogs? It was up to her to educate the university on what her dog was qualified to do, by virtue of his training — and the law.

Lab classes are requirements for many STEM degrees, and keeping people with disabilities out of the lab effectively rules out certain degrees for students with service animals, Ramp says. "Sadly, there are a lot of science faculty that are reluctant to allow anyone with a disability into STEM or science. And when you have a service dog, that makes it an even bigger problem. From the moment you walk in, it's very visible, it's very different, and they have the power to say 'No.' "

Ramp says she personally knows students who have not gotten their degree solely because their service animals were banned from laboratory classes. "One student I know of was in their last semester of college with a 3.96 GPA. They were asked to leave a laboratory class and told they couldn't return because they had their service animal," she says. "That student not only dropped out of that class but dropped out of the entire college."

Leading research institutions like the National Institutes of Health are vocal about wanting to increase the diversity of people working in STEM fields, which includes people living with disabilities. In a survey of recent graduates with health, science, engineering bachelor's degrees, only 5 percent of people employed in those fields were people living with disabilities.

Part of the problem, Ramp says, is the lack of understanding of what the Americans with Disabilities Act says about service animals, and how to apply it to a laboratory setting.


Robin Jones directs the Great Lakes ADA Center and teaches in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She says that "under the ADA's regulations for service animals, service animals have a right to be anywhere that a human is, unless an entity can demonstrate that there would be some either direct threat or fundamental alteration in the program or activity with the presence of the service animal."

According to Ramp, those exclusions don't apply to most teaching labs — although there may be exceptions, like labs where even humans are required to wear sealed suits and ventilators. She understands, though, that the law doesn't do much to help employers know where to begin. This is why Ramp dedicates a good portion of her time outside of her studies to helping mediate between universities and students with service animals to find a solution that works for everyone.

"We need this population of people with their creative ideas, and the way that they challenge life every day, and overcome different types of adversity," she says. "They're strong people, they're intelligent people, and we're excluding them."

Episode notes: We first read about Sampson and Ramp in The Scientist. Follow host Maddie Sofia @maddie_sofia. Email the show at shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Brent Baughman and edited by Viet Le, with fact checking by Emily Vaughn.

SOURCE: https://www.npr.org/800911230


Staff member
Mar 23, 2021
Thanks for sharing! I am going to make this one of our featured posts :)