Q. Getting my car refueled has become a real hassle lately — and seems to be getting worse. After the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, for a while it seemed possible to get assistance with refueling at most gas stations in this area. Today there are only a handful that provide that help, and most of those do it during limited hours.
Recently I pulled into a station where I have been able to get assistance in the past, only to be greeted by a new sign on the door: “Hours for Handicap Assistance: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.” Since it was only 2:30 p.m. and I could see two employees in the convenience store, I honked my horn repeatedly until one of them came out. The employee was very apologetic, telling me the company that owned the station and about a dozen others in this area had established similar hours of fueling assistance at all of their stations. After I reminded him that he had pumped gas for me just a week before, he agreed to refill the vehicle again — but just this one time.
Posting such short hours for fueling assistance would seem to violate some law, but the blue signs I see posted near doors of service stations appear to have no more meaning than the many retail establishments that have the International Symbol of Accessibility posted on a door that is anything but accessible. Restricting hours to midday also makes it extremely difficult for people with disabilities to keep their vehicles filled if they work all day. Is there a violation of the ADA or other laws taking place and, if so, how can I get this situation corrected?
— Running on Empty
A. Unless you live in one of the two states where it is illegal for drivers to pump their own gas (Oregon and New Jersey), you may encounter problems when seeking to refill your tank. During the past few years, the level of service at “service stations” has been on a steady decline. Many gas stations eliminated their service components and replaced their garage spaces with more profitable convenience stores. They also cut staff, as new self-service gas pumps could be operated by customers and controlled remotely from inside the store.
The ADA made things better for growing numbers of disabled drivers by requiring service stations to provide refueling assistance whenever two or more employees were on duty — and encouraging them to do it at other times. This meant that the many stations being operated by a single employee could legally get by without providing help to drivers with disabilities.
All service stations are required to post signs stating hours when refueling assistance is available, if it is, and phone numbers where drivers can request information. Thanks to local advocates, some states and local jurisdictions have taken this a step further, passing laws or ordinances that require all service station operators to provide a minimum number of hours of service each day. Even if a limited number of hours for assistance are posted, the ADA still requires service to be provided whenever there are two or more employees on duty.
There are several avenues available to people who want to file complaints or get the situation improved. A good first step is to check with your regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center to see if there is a disability rights law center or advocacy project located in your state. If so, check with them about any similar complaints about the business that refused to provide service to you.
Complaints about ADA violations can be filed with the Department of Justice, which could result in compensation to the complainant and a penalty for the business owner. State civil/disability rights laws, building codes and county ordinances may also cover the situation, with opportunities to file complaints with the governing enforcement agencies or even to file discrimination lawsuits. Those lawsuits might also result in penalty awards and attorney fees, depending on state and local laws.
There may be an additional benefit if action is taken against a business that refuses to provide assistance. Once news about complaints gets out, it is more likely that other area service stations may actually start providing the refueling service you need.
• Nationwide network of Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers, 800/949-4232; www.adata.org