Florida Member JR Harding: Gas For All

A year of advocacy and working with his county commissioners and the local SCI community paid off for Florida member JR Harding, with the nation’s first ordinance requiring gas stations to install accessible call buttons.

A year of advocacy and working with his county commissioners and the local SCI community paid off for Florida member JR Harding, with the nation’s first ordinance requiring gas stations to install accessible call buttons.

For the last five years, an ordinance aimed at improving access at gas stations for drivers with disabilities has been making its way around Florida counties. To help drivers who have difficulty reaching the pump or pumping their own gas, the ordinance proposes requiring all stations to post a telephone number that drivers could call if they needed assistance. When Florida member JR Harding heard the ordinance was coming to his county he decided it simply wasn’t enough.

“In a cold day in hell was I going to let that happen, because I don’t think the responsibility should be on the customer to have a telephone,” he says. “Frankly, nobody else calls anybody, and during emergencies telephones won’t work.”

Harding, a C5 quad who drives a full size Ford E250 van, took the issue to the Leon County Board of Commissioners.

“I explained to them that this was not the appropriate course of action. It wasn’t equitable and quite frankly it didn’t meet the needs of everybody,” he says.

He proposed requiring larger stations to install an easily accessible button which drivers could press to let the attendant(s) know they needed assistance. Harding had used similar system while driving on the Florida turnpike.

“It was very pleasing for me, as someone who travels a lot, to be able to stop at these stations and hit the button and have a service station staff that was sensitive and knowledgeable … I would actually go out of my way to stop at those stations,” he says.

On Oct. 29, after over a year of working with the commissioners and rallying local support, Harding’s hard work paid off when the commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance requiring stations that serve 10 or more cars install a call button within 90 days — the first such ordinance in the country. The victory was sweet for Harding.

“I’ve been successful in a variety of arenas, but I’ve never in my entire 22 years of driving been able to get gas independently,” he says. “The day that I will be cut free of my wife and my personal aide is quite unimaginable, and I’m still breathless in anticipation of this.”

That day might not have come without Harding’s tenacity and savvy, according to Commissioner John Dailey.

“[JR] pushes hard, he pushes the community hard and he makes everyone aware of ADA issues that you might not normally think of, but he does it in a way that is very respectful and he does it in a way that truly sheds light on the situations,” says Dailey. “He is very effective.”

Harding is now working with state representatives to try to attain similar legislation at the state level. He hopes the new ordinance will energize gas access advocates in other states and be the beginning of a bigger movement.