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Disabled man struggles to find ADA-friendly gas stations

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For people with a disability, pulling up to a filling station to get gas can be stressful. If they can’t get out of their vehicle, sometimes they may sit there and get no assistance. A Campbell County disabled man recently returned from an out of state trip and had a hard time finding a friendly gas station.

The Americans With Disabilities Act passed 28 years ago includes rules dealing with filling stations. For most people, the process of filling up the tank at a self-service station is simple. You get out of your car, swipe your credit card, or go inside with cash, and in less than five minutes, you are on your way.

What happens if you pull up to a gas station and you’re in a wheelchair or can’t get out of your car easily because of a disability? And what if there’s no button to push and you can’t get the attention of an attendant?

Mike Powers considers himself independent despite being disabled for the past 50 years following a car wreck when he was 18. Although a paraplegic, Powers is able to drive as long as the car has an automatic transmission.

Under federal rules that govern people with disabilities, Powers is supposed to get help pumping gas when he gets to a filling station. However, returning from trip out of state recently, he got no help.    

“I think the worst was when I came back those three exits hitting Tennessee. You don’t get no gas. You just sit there and sit there until you finally have to go somewhere else or the lid blows off the top of your head,” said Powers.

The Americans With Disabilities Act requires self-serve gas stations to provide equal access to their customers. Refueling assistance is required upon the request of a person with a disability. Through appropriate signs, customers with disabilities can obtain refueling assistance by using a call button, honking, or otherwise signaling an employee.

Refueling assistance is free; there’s no charge beyond the self-serve price. However, a station is not required to provide service if there is only one employee on duty. Powers says it seems some attendants are unaware of the ADA rules.

“Either they’re not aware or they don’t give a hoot, one of the two. It’s very stressful when they don’t come out. If I have gas, it’s okay. I’ll go on to the next station. I get mad, but then I get to thinking: I know I’m not the only one going through this,” he said.

Getting gas is less stressful for Powers at home in LaFollette. He heads to the Woodson Shell station where he pulls up to the drive-through window and is greeted by a friendly attendant. Within a moment, he’s good to go. Powers says finding this type of service makes life easier for anyone with a disability who needs a fill up.

“Not only do they pump it, but they’re friendly. If you need anything, they’ll ask you. If you need a six-pack of Coke, they’ll go out and bring that out to you,” said Powers.

Stations are required to post signs informing the disabled how they can get service from an attendant.

“If they are handicapped or any disability, we try to accommodate them. If they need our help, we come out and help them,” said Keishia Morris, manager of Woodson’s Shell.

For some disabled who drives alone, having a favorite gas station or attendant or asking a passer-by for help are sometimes the only ways to refuel.

Congress expanded the ADA in 2012 to recognize that some disabled drivers would like to pump their own fuel. The expanded law now requires that all operable parts of a gas pump be at or below 54 inches above the driving surface and that any new construction must have those parts at no higher than 48 inches above the surface.

Presently, complaints from members of the disabled community drive compliance at gas stations.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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