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Friday, May 7, 2010

The ADA, Procrastination and Gas Pumps

I have a stack of final exams on my desk that must be graded. This is serious work with a firm deadline I always meet. Yet I will do almost anything to avoid grading the exams. I love teaching but not grading. Grading exams is hard work and students are under great pressure to get good grades. I sympathize with students but can only base my assessment of their work based on what they hand in to me. This leads to frustration and, right now, procrastination in the form of this post and a need to fill the gas tank of my car. Yes, I needed gas but I really did not need to go out and fill up the tank this morning. I wanted to avoid my exams, get out in the early morning fresh air, and enjoy a short drive. So there I am pumping my gas when I noticed the blue wheelchair logo on the pump in the bright sunlight. I have not read the little wheelchair logo post in quite some time. However, I do know the law--here I refer to the ADA as it relates to assistance for disabled drivers at self service gas stations. What does the law state? Gas stations have the duty to assist disabled persons at the gas pump. The ADA requires self service stations to provide equal access to their customers. If more than one employee is on duty a gas station must provide refueling assistance to a disabled individual who has a handicapped placard or license plate. Customers with a disability let the service station know they need help by honking twice or signaling an employee. Gas stations may not charge a disabled person for pumping their gas.

I have been driving for over 30 years. Not once have I seen or heard of a disabled person being assisted at a gas station. Like anyone else, I have pumped my own gas on rainy days, in frigid cold, and searing heat. No one has ever asked me if I needed or wanted help. While I have never tried to seek the assistance of a station attendant, I find it hard to imagine this would go over well. Gas stations present many obstacles in terms of access. Bathrooms, aside from often being filthy, are rarely accessible. Ramps to enter the station are often blocked by fire wood in the winter and cases of water in the summer. If one can enter a station the aisles are so narrow they are impossible to navigate. Beer is stacked high and junk food abounds.

While the obstacles at gas stations and an obscure part of the ADA such as assisting disabled gas station customers may seem to be inconsequential, it highlights a larger problem. The ADA is just not taken seriously or poorly understood. Add in the ADA is often interpreted by people who know little about disability nor have an interest in making a business accessible and it is no wonder barriers abound. But it is not just businesses that seek to avoid the ADA. Schools, both public and private, routinely ignore or avoid ADA regulations. I had to shame my son's secondary school into making the auditorium accessible and even when they renovated it did not follow ADA guidelines. The university where I teach is grossly inaccessible and is a SUNY school! My point is that the lack of access at my local has station is symbolic of a much larger problem--the ADA is ignored or, worse, unknown. I hope that with the 20th anniversary of the ADA around the corner this may change. Moreover, it is my hope that the ADA will become known for what it really is: civil rights legislation. While I have great hopes, given the dismal state of the economy and lack of interest, I do not really expect the 20th anniversary of the ADA to resonate with the general public. However, I am planning on having a big party at my home next July to celebrate. While most Americans do not care, I for one I am grateful and proud to know a law like the ADA exists and that we elected legislators who had the wisdom to pen such civil rights legislation.

8 comments:

Becs said...

It hardly seems worth moving to Jersey just because of it...

Wheelchair Dancer said...

I learned this about 2 years ago. I just drive on up -- honk the horn, flash my card and someone usually comes running.

Usually is the operative word, of course. As is the key that I have only done this in the Bay Area.

When the person on duty is only one person, it's a different story. Some will help; others not so much. Often a bystander does it.

Theoretically, I can do it -- and have done it. But any time I don't have to lift that chair .....

WCD

william Peace said...

Becs, Ah, NJ gas prices! Love that turnpike of yours as I never need to get out of my car. Of course paying $9 to drive the NJT mediates the savings.

WD, In the Bay area I can see that the gas pump assistance works. There is a critical mass of people with disabilities that is visible. I pump my own gas all the time. Only once did I wish I had help--it was minus 20 in NY. Of course no one wanted to be out in that cold.

Becs said...

(Psst. Bill. The entire state is that way! You never have to pump your own gas. It's against the law. Possibly the only decent law Jersey ever made...)

staleywise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
staleywise said...

Hi,

I am on crutches and wear a leg brace. I have always been fairly independent but since I had another injury last year I am finding it more and more difficult to stay safe when filling my car with petrol. That’s because crutches and leg braces slip easily on oily concrete and it’s only a matter of time before I have a serious fall.

I was searching tonight for service stations who provide such a service in my town and found this perfect description of my situation. Wrong town. Wrong country. But please accept my compliments for a good description.

Kind regards,

Lesley Murray
staleywise@yahoo.com.au

aldrin james said...

This is a very important issue that we all should know and I do believe that this article has best information about it. I will share this post to all my friends.

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alder said...

Hillsborough County Florida passed an ordinance today to require all gas stations to post a sign at least 15 inches by 15 inches on the gas pumps with the phone number of the gas station and the wheelchair symbol. This will allow the person with a disability to call and ask for assistance. If the station does not post the phone number they will have to pay a fine to the county until they get their sign up. This is a four year in the making victory. We hope other counties around the country will follow suit.