/ Motoring, Technology

Could apps do more for disabled people?


The rise of the smartphone has generated a whole new world of services easily accessible within an app. But how many are actually helpful? Niall El-Assaad creator of fuelService, an app-based service supporting disabled drivers, joins us to question the usefulness of apps…

I love technology and especially apps, but how many do I actually find useful? Very few.

I can guess what you might be thinking – app fatigue. Smartphone users around the world are downloading apps, looking at them for a minute and never opening them again before eventually binning them off entirely.

Actually, like most things in life, apps are often a much worse experience for disabled people. I lose interest in many apps because most of the services available simply don’t cater for me.

App services

Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of generic apps that are applicable to disabled people, such as apps to order your shopping or get a takeaway delivered. But there are so many areas where we get excluded.

When it comes to travelling it gets far more complicated. You can book train tickets in seconds and travel immediately. But disabled people usually need to then make extra contact with the train company or station and ask for help days in advance – not much of a service!

Finding deals on hotel rooms is simple and booking takes seconds. Unless you need a disabled room, then you’ll invariably have to book at full price on the hotel’s website or call up to check availability.

One of the first things I learnt when I became disabled was that getting petrol was a very hit and miss experience. So I built fuelService, an app-based service to specifically help disabled drivers find and get assistance with refuelling their cars. Now there are over 1000 petrol stations where you can get help at the click of a button.

It’s not just getting help with refuelling, paying is a big problem as well, but Shell helpfully lets you pay via an app from the comfort of your car.

Helpful apps

To me, this all shows how problems can be solved if companies think about it. There are so many ways that tech could help support disabled people if companies rethink how their services work in reality. The possibilities for making life easier are many, and technology can help in a big way.

Is it because companies don’t care? Probably more simply it’s that they don’t know what it is that we need.

There are entrepreneurs everywhere looking for ideas to improve services. And companies should be looking for ways to stand out and better serve their customers.

So, what service or support would you want to simplify your life?

This is a guest contribution by Niall El-Assaad, creator of fuelService. All views expressed here are Niall’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.


This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Seems a well thought out idea. One wonders if it is going to get further it may need the assistance of a bigger voice however in the immediate short-term I would suggest contacting the charity Rica.org who have people who may wish to trial, and to spread the gospel.

I understand T&C’s are a bogey given that no one has really the desire to read or the legal training to understand the full implications. This is especially true when you realise the T&C’s can be changed almost at a whim by the site owner.

As consumers you may think we would benefit from Which? campaign on amount of notice required and an accepted usage T&C’s that could be the standard and that people could feel comfortable with as it was vetted and approved by some respected body.

Thanks for your guest convo @niallel-assaad it’s a really enjoyable read and gives much food for thought. I have loads of useless apps on my phone, I also have some great ones in there too. It seems that there’s plenty of space for apps to do more to help people and fuelService seems a great idea. It’s interesting what you say about companies just not being aware of what their users need, do you update the app based on the feedback you get from your users?

I’m sure there are plenty of ideas out there, but one thing that comes to mind is an app that helps you with your leisure time. If access to restaurants, cafes and pubs became an issue for me, I would welcome an app that finds places with easy access and facilities. I know some places in the Edinburgh Old Town which will practically never be able to allow access to folks with mobility difficulties, even with the best will in the world. Access difficulty may be mentioned in their websites, but the app could prevent having to trawl through several websites before finding a suitable place. Or this info should be added to eg the Tripadvisor app, same as the no background music info some of us would like.

Hi Niall – It’s always good to see contributors of Conversations stick around and answer questions. I very much support efforts to help the disabled and anyone who is capable of driving will be able to use a mobile phone. In my experience, disabled drivers usually drive short distances, so whether fuelService is useful will depend on whether there is a local garage that participates in the scheme. The existing 1000 filling stations could certainly help many people.

I see that the fuelService app is free and that profits go to towards research, but I cannot see an explanation of how the service is funded. Please could you explain.

Thanks Niall. It might be worth explaining the funding in ‘About us’ in case potential users dismiss the app, wrongly assuming that they may have to pay usage charges or their data might be used for marketing. Well done, and thanks to the filling stations that provide the support.

I presume that it is difficult for a small filling station with a single attendant to help provide a refuelling service but if it means that everyone has to wait a few minutes then what is the problem?

Thanks again, Niall. I will mention fuelService to the only disabled driver I know at present.