Director of Human Rights Paul Valenti explains to Pinellas County Commissioners Aug. 21 amendments to county code that change the rules on how gas stations serve the disabled community.
CLEARWATER – The Americans with Disabilities Act requires gas stations, including those with self-service, to provide equal access for their customers with disabilities.
Honking, signaling by flashing lights and waving are among the established methods disabled people can use to get help at gas stations throughout the United States.
But in Pinellas, they also can call a specified phone number and, unless only one person is on duty, an employee must come out and provide assistance at the pump.
Pinellas County Commissioners approved an amendment to a section of an ordinance relating to refueling assistance for persons with disabilities Aug. 21. The matter first came to the commission on July 24, but due to concerns voiced by Ben Fitter, advocacy director for Florida Gulf Coast Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Rev. Robert Swick of the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance and resident Angel Watson, commissioners tabled the matter.
The group was concerned about requirements for signage – where it would be placed, as well as making sure that everyone would continue to have equal access even those without a phone.
The group met with Paul Valenti, director of Pinellas County Office of Human Rights; Tim Burns, director of Justice and Consumer Services; and Michelle Wallace, senior assistant county attorney, to find common ground.
Staff presented a newly worded ordinance to the commission Aug. 21, which Valenti said addressed the concerns of all parties.
However, the group still disagreed, especially with the proposed wording on the sign that said Honk, signal or call for assistance. Ritter and Swick said the language was offensive and wanted to remove honk and signal. They also said it was annoying when people honked for assistance as it disturbs other customers. Watson insisted that all methods be on the signs to make it clear that a person didn’t have to call to get help.
Prior agreement on placement on the sign also seemed to go south after requests from at least one gas station operator that rules be less stringent and suggested that signs also could be placed on the columns near the pumps instead of the pumps themselves.
After much debate, the commission approved a combination of staff’s recommendations and revisions from the audience. The required signs, with phone numbers to call, also will include information on where to report instances of noncompliance with the new rules.
Gas retailers can be found in violation of the county’s ordinance if they do not prominently display a sign, decal or sticker with required information. They also will be in violation if the phone number on the sign is not operational or answered by an employee during regular hours of business.
Failure to assist any driver of a motor vehicle properly displaying an exemption parking permit or vehicle license designating the driver as disabled, unless there is only one employee on duty at the time the assistance is requested, also is in violation of the law.
For more information, call at 464-4880.
In other business, the commission:
- approved amendments to the county code to add licensing requirements for residential solid waste collection in unincorporated areas.
- appointed Commissioner Susan Latvala as the county’s representative to a 23-county consortium looking at distribution of funds from the Gulf Oil Spill Restore Act.