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When I Had to Ask a Stranger for Help At the Gas Pump

First, let me start by extending a huge thank you to the woman who offered to pump my gas and try to get me assistance at the pump.

As I left the house that day to run errands, I knew I would need to stop and fill my gas tank at some point. There’s a station up the road and it seemed convenient to stop there before starting my errands. Wow, was I wrong!

When I pulled up to the first pump I noticed the absence of a sticker that provides a number to call for assistance. Thinking it must have been removed or someone forgot to put one on that pump, I drove to another open pump only to discover the same problem. At this point the station was getting busy and I was running out of options.

I parked the car, pulled up Google and found a number for the location. Unfortunately, my call went to voicemail. Asking for help is not an easy thing for me, so I ran through different scenarios in my head. Could I unload and put together my wheelchair to pump my own gas? Nope. Not enough space and the keypad is out of reach. What if I flag down an employee? No one noticed my waves. Damn.

After what felt like forever, I decided to ask a woman using the pump opposite mine if she had a sticker with a number to call for assistance. She looked around and then came over to check my pump. Neither had the sticker so she pressed the “help” button on the keypad for me. Help didn’t arrive and she offered to pump my gas for me after dealing with her own vehicle. I thanked her a million times and felt horrible about bothering her since I could tell she wasn’t thrilled with the task. We talked a bit about Florida and I explained why I moved back to New York (because of my disability). She was understanding and let me know where she saw a station with the stickers on the pumps.

After another round of me thanking her, I started up my car and sat there for a few more seconds as embarrassment washed over me. It was not her job to help me and I shouldn’t have to flag down another patron for assistance. It’s not hard to put up a sign or sticker with information on how to obtain assistance at the pump. Many gas stations have those signs posted so people like me can do something as mundane as put gas in our vehicles!

In previous posts I’ve mentioned how it can be difficult to anticipate what someone with a mobility aid might need accommodation-wise until you are put in a position where you need those accommodations. I’ll admit the challenge of getting gas while disabled was never on my radar before using a wheelchair. Some friends I mentioned this event to told me that before I talked to them about what happened, they didn’t think about the possible difficulties this everyday task presents.

This is why we need to listen to disabled voices. Ask us what we need and involve us in building/product planning and design. All businesses that serve the public should be accessible. Having a number I can call for assistance allows me to continue being as independent as possible. It is the right thing to do, and the law. Per the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), all self-serve gas stations must have equal access and provide assistance as well as a way to request assistance at no additional charge.