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    Disabled Fuel Customers Get a Hand

    Delaware stations pumping gas for those in need.

    NEWARK, Del. -- For most people, filling a car's gas tank is one of those mundane tasks that require little effort and practically no planning. But for people like Wayne Carter and thousands of others with physical disabilities, filling up can be a challenge.

    Delaware requires gas stations that provide both full and self-service to pump gas for people with disabilities at the self-service price. The federal Americans With Disabilities Act also requires self-service stations with two or more employees to pump gas for disabled customers. But the decline of the full-service gas station has made it harder for drivers such as Carter, a paraplegic, to find a place where an attendant will fill the tank, The (Del.) News Journal reports.

    Many gas stations and convenience stores have only one attendant, and only 37 of the more than 300 service stations in Delaware are subject to the federal requirement. "A lot of them are getting away from full service, period. It really hurts people with disabilities," said Carter, executive director of the Delaware-Maryland Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

    Responding to that need, Delaware began the Voluntary Service Station Assistance Program in March 2002. The state now is trying to increase the visibility of the program so more people will participate. Self-service stations that join the program pledge to pump gas for drivers who are unable to fill their own tanks. Participating dealers are given signs to inform patrons of the service and the hours it is offered.

    So far, 32 stations are participating, state Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Williams said.

    New Castle resident Brian Whitaker, who served on the task force that designed the program, said he encouraged DelDOT to more actively promote it because he knew many people who were unaware of it.

    "People with physical disabilities or the elderly have told me numerous times that the lack of gas station accessibility hinders them from getting to work on time and to make their medical appointments," Whitaker said.

    Carter counts himself as fortunate: He is capable of filling his own tank if full service is not available. But for people with disabilities such as severe multiple sclerosis, "It's almost impossible for them to pump their own gas," he said.

    It can be particularly difficult for travelers to find a full-service station in an unfamiliar area, Carter said. The disappearance of the full-service station is likely to continue, said Paul Fiore, director of governmental affairs for the Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association. "If endangered is the last category before extinct, it's certainly endangered," he said.

    Fiore said his organization supports the programs, but said the trend to minimize staff at stations can cause difficulties. "I think if you talk to the disabled community there's always room for improvement," he said.

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