Tag Archives: driving

Disabled? Don’t Plan On Driving to the 2012 London Olympics

This post has been edited with updated information.

Here’s a completely bizarre policy move for you: Planners of the 2012 London Olympics announced today that a request to allow disabled ticket holders to use the games lanes set aside for athletes and dignitaries will be turned down. 100 miles (161 kilometers, if you must) of roads are being set up with a prioritised scheme to move official Olympics traffic along1, and disabled drivers don’t get to use any of those, although they might have benefited from the accommodation, avoiding the stress of traffic or inaccessible public transit.

The reason?

…it would not be possible to distinguish between bona fide ticket holders and disabled drivers using the lanes illegally.

That’s right. Because there’s a possibility that a person with a blue badge might use one of the games lanes without necessarily holding a ticket to the games, the organisers have decided to just go ahead and bar all blue badge holders from the lanes. This reminds me of a lot of the ‘fraud prevention’ policies when it comes to disability benefits; everyone’s got a passel of stories about ‘benefits cheats’ or people who use placards without ‘really’ being disabled, and thinks governments ought to move the earth to prevent even one person from falsely claiming benefits, even if the expenses of programmes aimed at addressing fraud far outweigh the payouts in terms of catching people.

We talk about placard panic here a lot, and there’s a reason for it. The media likes to devote utterly absurd amounts of attention to the idea that there are scores of people out there using disabled placards to get away with sneaky sneaky things, like parking closer to the grocery store. There seems to be a very common assumption that a car with placards should be viewed with suspicion because the driver is faking or someone is using placards for a family member of any number of other things, and the level of parking and driving policing that goes on in the media while ignoring other stories of far more importance and relevance is pretty breathtaking. This, of course, reinforces social attitudes and encourages media consumers to also get involved with placard policing.

It’s things like that that lead to decisions like this, where out of fear that a handful of people might abuse their disabled placards to take advantage of the dedicated lanes, people decide to just bar all disabled drivers from those lines after a reasonable request for accommodation. Including, I’m assuming people attending and competing in the Paralympic games, if the policy about the games lanes is taken to its logical conclusion. Which is, uh. Yeah. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Caroline Pidgeon, quoted in this article, puts it well:

When less than one in four Tube stations is wheelchair accessible it is appalling that the ODA have ruled out such a modest proposal.

So, basically, what organisers here are really saying is that they think disabled people shouldn’t bother attending the Olympics. For some people interested in attending, I’m sure that getting to various events was a concern, and being able to use the games lanes would have made it easier and more possible. Have an interest in sports? Too bad. Your kind are not wanted here. Which is interesting, since the organisers have indicated they are interested in accessibility issues; for example, there’s a discussion about making volunteering accessible, and their website has an accessibility statement. I guess accommodations only go so far, eh?

Methinks either the right hand knoweth not what the left hand is doing or someone has some seriously confused priorities.

  1. I would note that Londoners are already not very stoked with this idea; congestion is a serious problem in the city and many people are concerned that the Olympics will make it functionally impossible for people who actually live and work in London to go about their business. This has been a problem for other Olympic hosts, as has the very high cost of costing compared to limited returns, but that’s a different kettle of fish.

Design Changes For Accessibility: Fueling Stations

Every day, millions of people around the world glance at their fuel gauges, realise they are low, and pull into a fueling station to fill their tanks. Some of those millions of people are disabled, and thus, I wonder why it is that fueling stations are designed so inaccessibly when relatively simple design changes could be implemented to improve accessibility.

There have been a lot of great discussions in comments here about driving while disabled, as some people with disabilities drive and others do not, but I think we can all agree it’s rather hard to drive on an empty tank (or empty charge, as the case may be).

The fueling process here in the United States at a self service station generally requires that you pull up to a pump, get out of your vehicle, and access a control panel that is only reachable to a standing person. Then, you have to pull out the nozzle, choose a fuel mixture, usually with buttons that are also only accessible to standing people, and fuel up. I assume that the process is similar in many other regions of the world, but I may be mistaken.

Our station has disabled call buttons with the familiar blue wheelie symbol, with a brief note next to them explaining accessibility procedures that I read the other day while I was slaking my car’s eternal thirst for petrol.

According to the signage, fueling stations in the United States are required to help people with disabilities fuel their vehicles if customers are unable to do so independently. Customers must be charged the self service fuel price, not pay for full service, and the station is required to post signage providing information to disabled customers about how to get fueling assistance.

But. If there are no personnel on site, as often happens in the middle of the night, when stations basically run themselves, stations are not required to provide assistance. Likewise, ‘a service station or convenience store is not required to provide such service at any time that it is operating on a remote control basis with a single employee,’ according to the Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines for fuel station accessibility.

So, if you cannot fuel your car independently because of the way the equipment at the fueling station is designed, and you are not traveling with someone else, you are expected to rely on the kindness of the station for help. If there’s no employee at the station or the employee can’t provide assistance, you are supposed to…what, exactly? Hope that there is another customer there who can help you? If it’s the middle of the night, you’re supposed to…hand some random stranger your credit card to swipe it in the console you can’t reach?

As I see it, there are several concerns with fueling station design.

One is safety. I know that there are very strict guidelines about how stations can be built and arranged, designed to reduce the risk of fires, explosions, and other problems. For example, there are bollards next to the pumps to prevent people from hitting them as they are pulling up. Likewise, the vapor capture design on most fuel nozzles, which can make them challenging to use, is also required by law.

Another is customer friendliness. In most regions, people can choose from several fueling stations, so there need to be design features, as well as pricing decisions, that appeal to potential customers to encourage them to choose a specific station. People with disabilities are also customers, and designing accessible stations seems to me like a good business decision, in addition to, you know, being something that should be common sense.

Forcing people with disabilities to rely on other people in a situation like this is not really, to my mind, ‘accessibility.’ Like lots of other drivers, people with disabilities sometimes drive alone, sometimes drive late at night, and sometimes run out of fuel at inconvenient moments. Making it functionally impossible to fuel up when there are changes that could be implemented to allow people to fuel up independently is simply not acceptable. It’s also not really reasonable to demand that people like full time wheelchair users schedule their driving trips around fueling station convenience.

One simple change that could be made: Lowering the control console to a height accessible for a wheelchair or scooter user. To my knowledge, this would not conflict with fueling station safety needs. However, I am not a fueling station architect or an expert in the building code as it pertains to fueling stations, so I could be wrong.

Another change that might be a bit trickier to implement: Design fuel nozzles that are lighter and easier to use. This is more challenging because of the legal and safety requirements, but it seems like with some creativity and focused engineering, this should be possible. Most nozzles are already usable with one hand, which is a good start.

What are other accessibility issues you identify at fueling stations? How do you think they could/should be addressed?


Content note: This post is about a panic attack I recently had on a bridge and it is graphic in detail; graphic content starts after the cut.

It was a sunny Thursday morning, windows down and Lady Gaga on the stereo and I am buzzing along Highway One to Mendocino. I don’t go to Mendo very often these days and I am deeply enjoying the loud music and the moment and the freedom and the driving, sailing along the surface of the road instead of being bound to it.

“Road Work Ahead,” a bright orange sign warned, and I obediently slowed to something resembling the speed limit.

“One Lane Closed to Traffic,” read another, and my foot hovered over the brake while I looked in vain for signs of construction workers.

And then, I rounded the corner.

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