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Refueling Is Issue for Florida Disabilities Advocate
May 15, 2013
Source: USA Today and Tallahassee Democrat, FL
Story by Arek Sarkissian II, Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat, May 15, 2013; Story includes video without captions.
Disability expert J.R. Harding is hoping to persuade officials in Leon County, Florida, to require gas stations to post times that an attendant can help people with disabilities.
- 2012 federal rules changed pump heights across country
- But some disabilities still make pumping gas almost impossible
- Yet stations aren't required to offer help under certain circumstances
About 20 years ago, J.R. Harding was surrounded by people willing to help after an automobile crash left his bones broken and his spine severed for the second time.
Now, Harding, an Americans with Disabilities Act consultant [who has quadriplegia], is looking for help again — this time to pump gas.
He is pushing for an ordinance in Leon County, where Florida's capital is located, to require gas stations to set specific times when an attendant will be able to pump gas for [customers with disabilities].
"Just like those 20 years ago after my crash and everybody came out to help, the community could come out and support me and my community now," Harding said. "It's the right thing to do."
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act does have rules, in effect for about a year, that require any gas pump not to have controls more than 54 inches above the road surface. Everything on new pumps must be lower than 48 inches. That gives some people better accessibility to pump gas themselves, but not all.
A service station or convenience store doesn't have to provide fueling assistance for a person with a disability if it is operating pumps on remote control with a single employee, according to federal law. But those with more than one attendant are required to help those who [have disabilities].
The trouble for Harding is knowing when that might be.
For instance, one Circle K convenience store posted stickers alerting [drivers with disabilities] to honk twice for service. Harding followed the instructions and gave up after a 20-minute wait.
"Now, that leaves filling up to me, which means I have to rely on you or anyone who's willing to help," Harding said. "Now, imagine me handing some cash or a credit card to a complete stranger."
JR Harding hopes he can [convince] politicians the importance of having assistance at gasoline stations to help [customers with disabilities]. Currently only a handful of stations are geared towards this kind of help.
The Circle K station instructions also offered a toll-free number if no attendant responded to the honk. Harding's condition makes dialing a phone nearly impossible, so he also can't use the gas pump's key pad.
Efforts to reach Circle K for comment were unsuccessful.
"That ordinance would be just the start of where we're going," "We want to make it as easy as possible for people with disabilities to get to the pump," said Nick Maddox, the Leon County Commission chairman. "But at the same time we also need to take into consideration the operations at gas stations."
Federal law allows a [person with a disability] to file a complaint with the Justice Department if they are denied assistance or they can file a lawsuit. New Jersey and Oregon are the only states that ban self-service gas stations.
Owners of other gas stations in this area said they have developed a relationship with [regular customers who have a disability]. Aaron Desai of Quick-N-Save said he sees about four [customers with disabilities] a month, and they have developed a routine. They have no need for a sign telling drivers to call the store, a proposal talked about here last year and one in effect in Hillsborough County where Tampa is the largest city.
"They pull up in one of the two front pumps, they honk and we help them out," Desai said. "We know they're elderly, and we know they're veterans. So we want to do everything possible to help."
Desai said what he does also is common business sense: Good service yields repeat customers.
Dilip Patel, an employee at an area Sunoco station, shares that sentiment. His repeat [customers with disabilities] also have developed a routine.
"They need the help, and we give it to them. We already know the regulations," Patel said, adding he serves about three [customers with disabilities] a week.
Leon County Commissioner Kristen Dozier said she likes Harding's recommendation to set specific times when [people with disabilities] can count on full service at a gas station, but deeper study is required before making any decisions.
"There are some cases where newer technology — like buttons — would work for new stations, but it would be hard to retrofit the older ones. That's just an example," Dozier said. "We need to do this as deliberately as possible."
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