• Poster for safecert. Vector graphic of a storefront in the middle, safecert logo on top, comic strip scenarios at the bottom, blue circles with test on the left, and persona graphics on the right
  • Maddie People Portrait. Colorful sticky notes on butcher paper
  • Parental Paula Persona. Picture of a middle-aged woman with sticky notes below
  • Determined Dani Persona. Picture of an adolescent with sticky notes below
  • Practical Pierre. Picture of a man training a dog with colorful sticky notes below
  • Plot of pink sticky notes showing stakeholder values versus design values
  • Colorful sticky notes explaining 10 ideas and labeling their feasibility
  • Permanent marker sketch detailing how a service dog certification test would operate
  • A sketch of a phone with a puppy raising app running on it in the center. Sketches and notes of other pages of the app detailed around the phone
  • A sketch of a storefront and a zoomed in view of a service dog certification sign
  • Landing page for safecert website. Woman standing in front of team with blue header written over the photo. Blue shapes with text explaining the organization. Mockup of video player on the bottom
  • About Us page of the safecert website. Blue shape at the top with white mission statement, Text explaining the story of how the organization was founded. A photo of part of the team lying on a table, stock photo of a team, and a old building with interesting architecture
  • How to Get Involved page of safecert website. Blue rectangles with photos and white text listing ways people can get involved in the organization
  • Training video section of the safecert learning portal. Module label at the top and video player with gray service dog cartoon
  • Scenario video section of the safecert learning portal. Module label at the top and video player with man and woman pointing fingers at each other
  • Quiz section of the safecert learning portal. Module label at the top. Blue rectangle with question.
  • White placard with black paw print, blue and gray safecert wordmark, and a welcome for service animals
  • Screenshot of Yelp page for a business with fake safecert badge on it

In one of Olin’s required design courses, Collaborative Design (CD), students are tasked with designing a bold idea for an assigned people group. Working in teams of 4-5, students begin in the exploration phase, where they meet with stakeholders and create personas representing the group. They then conceptualize potential ideas through co-design sessions with stakeholders, trying to understand the values and areas of opportunity that will benefit the people group. By the end of the semester, the team develops their idea into an embodied proposal for something that could happen in the next 10 years.

My team worked with service animal trainers, focusing mostly on puppy raisers and self-trainers rather than the generally better supported task trainers. While talking to members of our people group, we learned that many face distrust from other people who don’t understand the concept of service animals. At one point we even heard of a restaurant employee refusing to believe that our stakeholder’s dog was a service animal because they weren’t the typical breed used. Through these conversations, we came to the insight that, while service animal trainers want an increase in public awareness and understanding of service animals, many of them, specially self-trainers, put more value on discretion and privacy. Some might be willing to expose themselves to the public to educate their peers, but most prefer not to bring attention to themselves or their dogs, especially while they are working.

We wanted to increase awareness of how to act around service animals while reducing the need for service animal trainers to interact with other people whole training. Based on our learning throughout the semester, we created SAFEcert, which stands for Service Animal Friendliness Education certification. Our proposed national organization is dedicated to creating a safer space for all service animal trainers and handlers, and promoting public education and normalization around service animals. SAFEcert operates 1 to 2 chapters per state to train and certify businesses as service dog friendly in order to help service animal trainers avoid harassment and distraction while completing public access training, or even just while being in a business with their dog.

We offer a free training curriculum for businesses, made up of online training videos, questions, and quizzes, which we can adapt to fit the needs of the individual businesses we work with. Our training videos are available to the public, while employees gain access to the full program through an online portal that can be integrated into existing onboarding methods. We teach businesses what service animals are, the federal and state laws that pertain to them, how to act around service animals and their handlers, how to manage situations with the dogs or handlers, and how to assess and respond to conflicts between other patrons and handlers.

Customers can check if a business is certified by looking for the widow sticker, which is designed to be readable from across the sidewalk and lists certification expiration and a QR code to access more information, or they can look for our digital certification badge on review sites or the business’ own website. We also provide businesses with infographics to hang up in their space to help educate other patrons about how to act around service animals. Puppy raisers, service dog trainers, and handlers can provide feedback on their experiences in a business, including reporting violations and requesting a review of the business’ certification. Individuals may also volunteer as an undercover tester to help with the certification or recertification process, allowing them to be a part of improving public understanding of service dogs only when they choose to do so.

By teaching employees how to act around service animals and respond to different situations, we believe that service animal trainers and will be able to be more comfortable existing in public spaces with their dogs. By making it easier to enter businesses with service dogs, including service dogs in training, SAFEcert can benefit not just puppy raisers and self-trainers, but also task trainers, and even handlers. Businesses can benefit from improved public perception within the community leading to more customers. SAFEcert has the potential to enact real change in societal understanding and acceptance of service animals, since over time, more businesses will see the benefits of getting certified themselves and patrons will be exposed to more service animals in their everyday lives.