Daily Archives: February 23, 2011

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Modern automation certainly makes a lot of tasks faster and cheaper. But for folks with disabilities, it can sometimes suck. Just ask my husband. That’s because automation removes the people factor. There’s no one to help you, and machines aren’t very accommodating. Automatic banking machines, unstaffed parking garages, vending machines… they’re all pretty useless if you can’t use your hands well, or get close enough in your wheelchair. And self-serve gas stations? Forget about it. My husband can tell you where every full-service gas station is located within a twenty-mile radius of our house, because his mobility depends on it. But, sadly, this breed of service station is becoming extinct.

One of these rare oases (oasises? oasi?) operates a few kilometres south of where we live. When my husband drove there recently to gas up the car, he was met with a warm reception. “How are you, sir? I haven’t seen you in a long time!” the attendant gushed, smiling. It was a Sunday and business was quiet, so he took care to clean my husband’s windshield – and even the side mirror, when asked.

Then came the clincher. My husband needed his tires topped up. Consider all the steps to this that require nimble fingers: popping quarters into the air machine, twisting off the valve cap, reaching to hook the air hose to the inner tube, testing the tire pressure. My hubby can’t do any of these. After a microsecond, the gas attendant nodded: Absolutely, he could take care of it.

“For you, I make a special service,” he said in his accented English, adding: “For nobody else I do this.”

Today, I’m sending a shout-out to every one of us who makes a special service. Whether we hold a door for someone today, pick up litter, shovel a sidewalk or tell a stranger that her baby is adorable, our special service will always make a difference.

No matter how automated our society becomes, there’s nothing like the human touch. Thanks anyway, Mr. Roboto.