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.

6 responses to “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

  1. I too prefer full-service gas stations and always look for them. The human touch and generally friendly interactions are worth the extra few cents to me. They seem to be mostly independents. Maybe you could let us know the name and location of this one and more of us could patronize it and help it stay in business?? I live in the east end and usually go to Neon (Queen St. E. at Curzon, just west of Leslie) and Tonka (Pape and Fulton, north of Danforth).

  2. Thanks, Rika. I think people without disabilities appreciate the human connection, too. We’re in the west end of the city – and although this won’t mean much to readers outside of Toronto (apologies!), we can find full service on Royal York Road near the Mimico GO Station, and on Kipling just south of Bloor. I wonder if anyone has ever mapped out an entire city’s full-service stations?

  3. Its sad that disabled people are rarely consulted when automation is considered. As a visually disabled person, I frequently have difficulty reading obscured pin numbers that come with new credit cards or the secuirty code on the back of a credit card of the small print of the expiry date. Telephone books, cooking instructions, medicine dosages might as well be written in a foreign language.

  4. Absolutely. And the machines that accept those PIN numbers aren’t always usable by people without good finger dexterity – or reachable by someone sitting in a wheelchair. That’s why “universal access” is a great concept!

  5. This blog makes me cry!!! I love hearing stories of kindness and great customer service! My experience of living in small-town Ontario has meant that I meet more of these type of people. People who remember your face (and your name!) and don’t rush you through but have a bit of a chat! My father won’t use the bank machines in his retirement … he still prefers to walk inside, wait in line and chat with a teller! It is all about being recognized and having a human connection.

  6. I agree. I grew up in a rural area and still joke that you had about three or four connections to every neighbour: they were your teacher at school, you were their babysitter, they were best friends with your mom, etc. Now we live in Toronto but in a closely connected neighbourhood, which is one of the things that makes urban living palatable. We know many local store owners and are always treated well as a result. Just like small-town living!

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