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COVINGTON, Wash. -- As full-service and mini-service stations continue to disappear from the market, people with disabilities are finding it harder to get service at the pumps.
Such customers do have state and federal law on their side, which requires gas stations, if reasonably able to do so, to pump gas for people with disabilities. In addition, they must get the gas at the self-service price, not the higher price that some full-service pumps charge, according to a report by the King County Journal.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Civil Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, requires gas stations to provide equal access for their customers with disabilities. That means pumping gas, notifying customers they have that option and not charging them higher than the self-serve price, the newspaper said.
But there is a caveat. A service station or c-store is not required to provide such service at any time it's operating on a remote control basis with a single employee, though it is encouraged to do so, if feasible, according to a Justice Department guide for service stations.
There is a Washington state law as well, requiring the same refueling services for disabled drivers who display a disabled placard or license plate, yet it too offers exceptions for gas stations and convenience stores that have remotely controlled gas pumps and never provide pump island service, the King County Journal reported.
Clara Warnke doesn't think it's right that she has to drive seven miles from her home in Covington, Wash. to Auburn, Wash. to fill up her car with gasoline. It's not that the gas is cheaper at the Auburn station she goes to, but at least there is a full-service pump there and someone who will fill up her tank The 82-year-old woman uses a walker, and getting in and out of her car is difficult. Lifting the gasoline hose isn't easy for her either.
The problem is, she can't find anyone to fill her tank at a station close to home. Everything is self-serve, she told the newspaper.
Toby Olson, executive director of the Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, said it's a real issue for people with disabilities, especially those who travel across the state or country. "It's very hard to find full-service or even mini-service stations anymore," he told the newspaper. "We have been trying to figure out a better way to address this issue for a long time … I don't think there is much room to make a legal requirement much stronger than they are."
About 12 years ago, Olson said they surveyed service stations and compiled a list of those who said they'd help people with disabilities, but it had credibility problems. Unfortunately, customers called and said some stations on the list wouldn't help them, he noted.
Mark Brenman, executive director of the state's Human Rights Commission, said his office will investigate complaints, but he doesn't recall receiving any in the two-and-a-half years he has been in Washington. The issue, however, is a common one nationally and the Justice Department writes guidelines for service stations.
Brenman said the facts of each case would have to be examined, but any kind of blanket policy not to pump gas for people with disabilities would certainly get their attention. He said any denial of services would have to have a good reason behind it.