Friday, 14 March 2014

Access All Areas : at the petrol pump

Today a bouquet goes to a service station ('servo') that has made filling the tank much easier and indeed possible for some people when it was previously impossible.

When I need to get petrol, it isn't always as simple as you would think.

I will describe the whole rigmarole below and then show you a simple solution that I discovered this week.

You can skip the rigmarole if you like, but I would like you to see the solution afterwards.

The Rigmarole

When I go to get petrol, this is how it goes:

  1. Pull up to the pump. With luck the pump closest to the door will be free for me to use, to minimise the walking distance required.
  2. Walk (or stagger depending on levels of pain and/or weakness) to get my wheelie walker from the tailgate.
  3. Position the walker between the car and the pump so that I can sit on it while pumping petrol because standing in one place for too long will trigger energy-sapping pain that may last all day.
  4. Remove the petrol cap and find somewhere to put it down where it won't roll or be blown away because I need both hands to squeeze the pump handle. Sometimes the safest place is on/near the ground. Listen to my joints creak as I go down and back up.
  5. Lift the pump and put the nozzle in the tank, then position my weak and/or painful hands so that I can actually pull the trigger hard enough to start the petrol pumping.
  6. Sit down on my walker and wait for the tank to fill, every now and again releasing the pump trigger to rest my hands before starting over.
  7. When finished, remove the nozzle and replace it on the pump; retrieve the cap (creaky joints and all) and replace cap on tank.
  8. Occasionally there is a small spill: I then need to find the watering can to rinse it off the car.

    Usually the watering can is close with some water in.  It is often too full and too heavy to lift. Depending on where it is, I might be able to tilt it and empty it a bit onto the ground to make it lighter. Other times I cannot move it at all from its snug receptacle.

    I need both hands to lift the watering can and will place it on my walker to wheel it to where I need it. Keeping it on the walker I can tilt it again to rinse the petrol spill.

    Sometimes the nearest watering can is empty and requires either a walk to fetch another one further away or to take the empty one to the tap (sometimes on the boundary of the complex).

    Some days it isn't much of a problem, other days it is a struggle and every ounce of energy is extra precious.
  9. Time to pay. I would like to get back in the car, drive it to the door and then get out and pay but if you start to drive off without having paid, the servo attendants think it's a robbery.

    I have been advised to not start the car until the account is paid. Not only that, driving to the door requires another loading/unloading of equipment - more energy used up.

    My walker is absolutely necessary - it allows me to walk a bit faster without the fear of falling and also something to sit on if the queue is too slow so I am not standing in one place for too long.
  10. Back to the car (trying to ignore the stares of other customers who seem to find my walker a curiosity). Load the walker back into the tailgate.  Get back to the driver's seat (sometimes leaning on the side of the car for stability) and hope that the driver waiting to pull in behind me is patient while I position myself and my back support cushion properly before moving off.

There are three servos within 500 metres of each other but I tend to use the one with the least distance between the pump and the door.

There is another servo which has quicker pumps, but it also has more of them so the queues are usually very long so I will avoid it and choose quiet times for purchasing petrol.

There are days when I should get petrol because the price is good but I don't because I am too tired for the loading/unloading, walking, queues et cetera.

There are also times when I need to put air in the tyres but I don't have the strength for it. Once I went into the kiosk to ask an attendant to help me but there was only 1 staff member who is not allowed to leave the till and that is often the case.

A Solution

Imagine my delight when, in a different suburb, I pull into an unfamiliar servo and, as I am unloading the walker, I see a welcome sign on the bowser:

Can you read it from there?  Here's a close-up:

The bowser has a disability access symbol and says:
"10am - 2pm Mon - Fri Honk for assistance"

Now that's a welcome start! 

This servo offers disability-friendly service - there is a designated disability permit parking space right next to the front door and the ramp at the door also has the textured paving tiles to guide vison-impaired shop customers to the door and warn of the change of level. 

Seeing all of this on arrival gave an excellent first impression and I felt supported (not self-conscious as I needed to unload the walker) and welcome as a customer.

It is such a boon for all sorts of customers, not just those who rely on wheelchairs. Not only that, when you help people with disabilities, you end up improving service for other customers too; e.g. instead of having to wait for someone to load/unload their mobility equipment, assistance can make the whole procedure quicker, which means the pump isn't being held up for longer than necessary. That means the customer waiting behind can get their turn quicker, and the business has a quicker turnover of sales.

Sure, I could be cynical and question the principle of only offering the service in restricted times (notice the non-peak times). 

Already by restricting the time, the driveway service is not available to people who work 9-5 on weekdays. This is not fair and alienates a whole segment of the potential 'disability' market. 

Why should a person with a disability not be able to fill up their tank at the same times as everyone else?  People with disabilities want to be afforded the same rights, respect, independence and dignity as everyone else in society.

The whole "honk for assistance" principle relies on the servo having more than one staff member on duty at all times that the assistance is offered.  

When I praised the attendant for the initiative, I did stress that the roster needs to maintain adequate staffing for this to work. His response was that there are usually two people on duty during 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. but if a customer is unlucky enough to require assistance when one of the staff are on their scheduled break, the assistance won't be available!  

His compromise was to provide the phone number of the servo and recommended that should I plan to use the service I should prevent inconvenience by phoning ahead first to make sure there would be someone there to help me.

There's an example of a well-intentioned idea but every other customer is not required to do that, at their own expense, so why should people with disabilities be lumbered with this burden?

Nevertheless, this is the first servo I have ever seen to have even thought about customers with disabilities and that's a good start, so I am hesitant to make too many complaints. For now.

I am hoping that the news will spread and that one day "honk for assistance" signs (or even permanent full driveway service like 'the old days') will be the standard expectation everywhere.  That will be the day to refine the issues of restricted times etc.

But for now, I am thrilled that businesses are beginning to 'get it' and I do like to spend my dollars where my money is appreciated as much as everyone else's.

If only my local petrol stations (all three of them) could take note. I hope to broach the subject with them one day soon when I have the time and energy (physical and emotional). 

Can you recommend any other servos that offer full driveway service or assistance? 


  1. I can't imagine how hard those seemingly simple things must be for you!

    This petrol station has made a good step in the right direction, but I agree, it could be so much better..

    1. Thank you for your empathy Amber. Some days are easy and other days are hard. It doesn't always feel like a trial, but getting petrol isn't the quick and simple task it used to be. So much has to be planned these days. It is nice to know there is a place where I can get my petrol when I am having a difficult day. Just knowing that the people of that business are aware of disability issues makes me feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable about asking for assistance if I need it. I often find it very difficult to ask for help. Knowing that it is acceptable to ask at these establishments makes it easier to accept my own limitations and not push myself too hard (as I often do).
      I complimented the business on its Facebook page and they wrote a nice reply. I then gave them the link to this blog post. I do hope they read it and realise what a win:win situation it can be for the business and its customers (both with and without disabilities) if they could extend the hours of their 'honk for assistance' service.
      I will be interested to learn how petrol stations in other countries cater for people with disabilities if at all.