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The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont announces that in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in recognition of the work yet to be done to fully realize the goals of the ADA, Vermont state agencies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont, non-profits and the business community are collaborating to educate gas station and convenience store owners about their responsibilities under the ADA and Vermont’s Public Accommodations Act. Title III of the ADA prohibits a public accommodation from denying an individual or a class of individuals, on the basis of a disability, the opportunity to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of an entity.
In an effort spearheaded by the Vermont Human Rights Commission (VHRC), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Agency of Agriculture, the Agency of Natural Resources and Department of Aging and Independent Living joined forces with Disability Rights Vermont, Champlain Oil, the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, the Vermont Petroleum Association and the American Petroleum Institute to distribute information through a variety of means to all of Vermont’s gas stations and convenience stores.
The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the specific requirements that gas stations have towards individuals with mobility impairments. Over 30,000 Vermonters have been issued a registration plate or parking card indicating some degree of mobility impairment.
In order to comply with the ADA and Vermont law, entities that sell gasoline must, among other things:
• pump gas for the individual with a plate or parking card, provided more than one staff person is on duty at the time;
• charge that individual the same self-service price available to patrons who pump their own gas;
• prominently display the international symbol of accessibility and provide a means for individuals with disabilities to communicate the need for assistance either through a call button on the fuel dispenser, signage with a telephone number to call and/or signage indicating that individuals with disabilities may honk their horn for assistance. Signage must comply with ADA font size requirements;
While some gas stations do have proper signage and a means to request assistance with pumping fuel, many do not. For David Sagi, the Title II ADA Program & Service Coordinator for the State of Vermont, and a wheelchair user, the lack of compliance has real consequences. “I travel a lot with my job,” he said. “I’ve had to memorize where the remaining full service stations are because I can’t count on being able to get gasoline at a self-serve station.”
The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association (VRGA) and the Vermont Petroleum Association, which represent the industry, were on board from the beginning of the project. “This is really about equal rights and ensuring that all Vermonters have access to an essential service,” said Jim Harrison, executive director of the VRGA. “This is not a matter of hostility or indifference. Gas stations simply need information about their responsibilities.” In order to assist gas stations in complying, the VRGA/VPA have printed up decals that can be placed on gas station pumps and paid for a mailing to all gas stations with a Frequently Asked Questions flyer and information about how to obtain the decals.
“Our goal is to gain compliance through education,” said VHRC Executive Director Karen Richards. “Enforcement actions are time-consuming and less effective. If, however, after this push to educate providers, we find gas stations that are not in compliance, we may have to resort to enforcement. I’m hopeful that won’t be necessary and that gas stations will see this as an opportunity to be welcoming to a broader range of customers and visitors to the state.”
“This is an important civil rights issue in a rural state like Vermont – making sure that individuals with disabilities are able to access the services provided by gas stations and convenience stores. This collaborative effort seeks to educate businesses, encourage compliance, and improve accessibility all at the same time,” said Assistant United States Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest, who with assistance from the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, handled this matter on behalf of the United States.
The Vermont Human Rights Commission can be contacted at 800-416-2010 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information on the ADA and its requirements see www.ada.gov.