Shell, disability rights group reach agreement

The Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX)
Santos, Karen.
(June 19, 1998)

Shell Oil Co. will modify about 3,600 gas stations nationwide to ensure wheelchair accessibility to settle a complaint by a group representing the disabled that said its stations violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The agreement announced Thursday with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund will affect all stations owned, operated or leased by Shell and those owned by Equilon Enterprises, its recently formed joint venture with Texaco.

Texaco is not a party to the settlement.

Shell said in a written statement, “The parties entered into the agreement to avoid the uncertainties and costs of litigation.” Also, the company said it has been modifying its stations to make them more accessible to the disabled.

Jan Garrett, a staff attorney for the disability rights group, said a number of changes could be required to provide easier access. For example, wheelchair users must be able to get into convenience stores and restrooms, so ramps may be put into place. Restroom doors may be widened to allow wheelchairs to pass through. Grip bars may be put into place in restroom stalls, and toilets raised. Or a station may have more employees on hand to assist wheelchair-bound drivers in fueling their cars.

Negotiations between Shell and the disability rights group, located in Berkeley, Calif., began about two years ago. The group filed the complaint after John Greener, a high school assistant principal in San Francisco, approached it about the lack of accessibility at a Shell station.

He complained he could not get into either the restroom or convenience store at a local Shell station. Two other plaintiffs then joined the class action.

The three people who filed the suit will receive $10,000 each, said Andrea Asaro, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.

The case was not intended to single out Shell as the only company with problems in this area. Shell was chosen because Greener came to the disability rights group to complain about a Shell location, Asaro said.

“We certainly hope other oil companies with service stations will look carefully at this settlement,” Garrett said.

“Americans love their cars, and they love the freedom to travel in their cars,” Garrett said. “This gives freedom to tens of thousands of people with mobility disabilities.”

No one has an estimate of how much work the agreement will entail.

First, Shell will survey its stations nationwide, to determine what changes need to be made. Because stations vary, different alterations will be made at different stations, Asaro said.

Under the agreement, Shell will complete modifications within five years. It will provide training to certain employees and to those who lease Shell stations in how to assist wheelchair users. Shell also said in its statement that it denies any liability for allegations in the lawsuit.

Jim Fair, a spokesman for Amoco Corp., said that he had not heard of the case, but that Amoco does post locations that are accessible to the disabled and hours when there are employees to help drivers in wheelchairs. He also said many Amoco stations are wheelchair-accessible.

Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990 to prohibit discrimination in employment and in programs and services provided by state and local governments. It also stipulated that commercial facilities be accessible to the disabled, especially those that provide goods and services to the public. The act also required that buildings and facilities open to the public be modified to be accessible.

In 1996, the act forced United Artists Theater Circuit, a large theater chain, to provide seats for disabled people throughout theaters, and not just in the back.

Last year, the act required new hotels and hotels under substantial renovation to be completely accessible, and to have such things as lowered phones and drinking fountains, and phones for the hearing-impaired.