Advocate pushes gas station aid for disabled people

Former Ontario lieutenant-governor David Onley left, and Edward Rice
Former Ontario lieutenant-governor David Onley left, and Edward Rice

Edward Rice understands the limitations a disability can create, even when you are trying to perform a simple task like filling your car’s tank with gasoline.

Rice had polio, but in the past, he was able to drive thanks to special modifications that were made to his minivan. A built-in winch helped get his scooter in and out of the vehicle, and he was able to drive using hand controls.

Gassing up at the neighbourhood self-serve was another matter, he said. It was difficult and time consuming to get out of the car, and even once the winch had lowered him onto his scooter, he’d find himself too far away for the pump hose to reach the tank.

People with other disabilities have different problems. Some find the touch screens too high, the gas caps too difficult to manoeuvre, the nozzles too hard to grasp, and credit cards too hard to handle. And full-service stations are few and far between, even in a city as big as Toronto.

So what to do?

Not a guy to put up his hands in defeat, Rice did some research and found a potential solution south of the border.

READ: Raising awareness to create an inclusive, fully accessible community

Thanks to an idea called FuelCall developed by Inclusion Solutions, an Illinois-based company, Rice believes there’s an off-the-shelf solution to the problem faced by thousands of disabled drivers.

It’s fairly simple, though it depends on the co-operation of larger service stations to implement, said Rice, who serves as chair of the Ontarians with disabilities sub-committee of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada.

All that’s required is for the service stations to post prominently lit signage, such as the internationally recognized blue disability sticker on the gas station’s logo, visible from the street, indicating there are people on site available for full-service gassing. Once a driver, equipped with the blue disability sign, pulls up to the dedicated gas island, a button is on hand that will summon staff when pushed.

Because it assumes the availability of service staff, the solution is appropriate for larger gas stations, the kinds that also include coffee shops and car washes, Rice said.

Once the button is pushed, staff can tend to the customer, allowing him to proceed with his day without the inconvenience of leaving and re-entering the vehicle or bringing a friend or family member along to help.

The solution can also help promote sales, as the customer can also order snacks, coffee and other merchandise, he added.

“I found gas stations in Florida, and it worked like a charm,” said Rice, a retired snowbird.

What’s more, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005 requires businesses that provide goods and services to the public  to make these services accessible. Regulations passed under the act specifically refer to service stations.

He noted that in the United States, Marathon, a large chain with hundreds of gas stations, has agreed to implement the FuelCall program.

Late last year, Rice met with David Onley, the former lieutenant-governor of Ontario, who also had polio. Onley now serves as special adviser on accessibility to Brad Duguid, the minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure.

The meeting went well, Rice said, and he’s been told that Onley will present the proposed solution to the minister.