Posted: May 15, 2013
May 15, 2013
About 20 years ago, J.R. Harding was surrounded by Tallahassee residents 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 and quadriplegic, was looking for help, again.
Harding said gas stations around the Big Bend should put forth a more concerted effort toward helping people with disabilities who are not able to manage fuel pumping alone. Last year, the Leon County Commission discussed an ordinance requiring gas stations to display signs around pumps offering a phone number people with disabilities may call for service. It was a plan similar to one passed by Hillsborough County. Harding said the proposed measure offered no solution. Instead, he would like the ordinance that would require gas stations to set specific times when an attendant will be available to pump gas for the disabled.
“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.”
Harding offered his suggestions during a Nov. 13 County Commission meeting and the panel moved to study and incorporate them into the ordinance at a later date. As of Tuesday, the original ordinance remained unchanged, which Commission Chairman Nick Maddox said would be a step toward Harding’s ultimate goal.
“That ordinance would be just the start of where we’re going,” Maddox said. “We want to make it as easy as possible for people with disabilities to get to the pump, but at the same time we also need to take into consideration the operations at gas stations.”
Maddox said he did not know when the proposal would be discussed again.
The proposed ordinance would better define a state law implemented by an ADA standard requiring gas stations with more than one attendant on duty to provide refueling assistance to those who are handicapped. A survey of three gas stations in Tallahassee showed there was no standard method of refueling gas. For instance, the Circle K gas station at 205 N. Magnolia Drive posted stickers alerting handicapped drivers to twice honk vehicle horns 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.”
The Circle K station instructions also offered an 800 number if no attendant responded to the honk. Harding’s condition makes dialing a phone nearly impossible; let alone accessing a gas pump key pad.
“Again, not much I can do here either.” he said.
Efforts to reach Circle K for comment were unsuccessful.
The other gas stations in the survey were visited without Harding’s presence. Most owners said they developed a relationship with regulars who are disabled. Aaron Desai, of the Quick-N-Save at the intersection of West Tennessee and Meridian streets, said he sees about four handicapped customers per month and they have developed a routine. There was no need for a sign telling drivers to call the store.
“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 it was also common business sense that good service yields repeat customers. That sentiment was shared by Dilip Patel, an employee at the Sunoco station at the intersection of Mahan Drive and Capital Circle Northeast. His repeat handicapped customers 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 handicapped customers per week.
Leon County Commissioner Kristen Dozier said she agreed with Harding’s recommendation to set specific times when the handicapped 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.”