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Pumping Gas: A Better Way?

Reprinted from PN January 2010

People with disabilities face many challenges when attempting to pump their own gas.

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You are “running on empty.” Jackson Browne’s famous lyrics drive you to find a gas station. You tried to put it off until you could get a “little help from your friends,” but no one is available and you may be stranded soon. Many wheelchair users find themselves in this position and put off the inevitable because pumping their own gas can be an “Olympic” event.

Reason soon overrides procrastination, because pushing your chair to the nearest gas station for a can of fuel is much more difficult than pumping.

This “Olympic event” starts with finding enough room at the pump to lower your ramp or deploy your topper, and still get between the car and the pump—assuming the gas tank is on the opposite side of your exit. Then there is the time it takes to make the transition from inside the car to the pump, with impatient drivers lining up behind you.

You really hope the credit-card reader is working at your pump. If not, you must run a gauntlet from the pump to inside the store to give the attendant money to turn it on.

Success, 20-some minutes later, and a full tank of gas. The celebration is tainted by the knowledge you will have to do this maneuver again in the not-so-distant future.


Shawn Buller receives help from Anna at the Sunset Market and gas station in Miami Fla. The gas pump has a call button, but Shawn can't reach it without leaving her vehicle.

There has to be a better way! What happened to the “good ol’ days” when the smiling attendant came out, pumped the gas, cleaned your vehicle’s windshield, checked the oil, and then took your money and brought you the change?

Just two states require an attendant to pump your gas for you: New Jersey and Oregon. Some days you think it might be worth moving if you don’t already live in one of those states.

Then there is always the “I’ll drive” tactic, but your friends or spouse are starting to get wise to this one. They begin to wonder why you always offer to drive when your tank is on empty. It’s especially awkward on the first date or on your way to a formal event. “Eau de Petrol” is not the fragrance your date wants to wear to the party.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that an attendant pump your gas during normal business hours if two or more people are on duty. If only one is working, you are out of luck. If you have to get out of your vehicle to go into the store to “count employees,” you might as well pump your own gas and hand over the cash while you are inside.

Do you know people and organizations are actively trying to solve the gas-pumping problem? Several styles of call buttons have been designed to be attached to the pump or mounted on an arm that reaches out to the vehicle. An attendant can then let you know through an intercom whether he/she is available to come out and pump.

The buttons cost the fuel companies money to install, and there are still a few bugs to work out. Not all drivers’ side and gas tanks are on the same side of the vehicle, and maneuvering the vehicle to the gas-tank side after pushing the button—if you can reach it—at a busy station can be tough, not to mention a potential for evoking road rage. The driver behind you may think you are driving away when you are really just turning around for service.

There is also a proposal to place at each pump a large blue sticker with the wheelchair symbol and the gas station’s phone number. This way you can drive up and call for service. The attendant can let you know if or when he/she will be out to pump the gas. Opposition to this idea is that not all people in wheelchairs have cell phones and that some able-bodied individuals might abuse the phone number.

Shawn Buller, music therapist at the Miami VA Medical Center, has solved her local gas-pumping issue by making friends with staff at the station. She has their number plugged into her cell phone, and they come out and pump at her call. On holidays, she rewards them with special treats for the good service. But, this doesn’t work when you are traveling away from home.

 

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Pumping Gas: A Better Way?

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