The service station smartphone app for disabled drivers
Thanks to Niall El-Assaad getting a tank top-up has never been easier for wheelchair users
Niall El-Assaad, creator of the fuelService app for disabled drivers, in Dublin last week with Richard Ryder of Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland. The app will find the nearest station that offers assistance. Photograph: Silver Image.
Did you ever consider how difficult it is for a wheelchair user to put fuel into a car at a filling station? Just think about it for a minute.
First, assembling the wheelchair outside of the car takes a big effort (that’s assuming there’s space next to the car to do so). Then, getting into the wheelchair, filling the car with fuel, going into the shop to pay for the fuel before getting back into the car, taking the wheelchair apart, putting it back into the car and driving away.
When Manchester-based Niall El-Assaad became paralysed from the chest downwards after an accident on his bicycle, learning to drive again was the easy part. But, finding a filling station where someone would put fuel into his car proved much more difficult. “If you can’t get out of your car – which I can’t do easily – you simply have to drive from station to station trying to find one where the staff can help you, hoping you won’t run out of petrol before you get there,” says El-Assaad.
“Once you arrive, there is no guarantee that staff will notice you and come to your aid. You can only hope for the best as you flash your lights, beep the horn or wave your disabled driver badge around – but that’s humiliating, particularly as other drivers have no idea you’re disabled and just see you acting as a crazy person,” he adds.
With 10 years of work in companies including Cisco behind him, El-Assad was well placed to find a technological solution to the problem. This year, he came to Ireland to promote his fuelService smartphone app which is programmed to find the nearest fuel station that offers assistance. The app will phone the filling station, letting a staff member know that a disabled driver will require assistance and then phone again when the person arrives.
“When I developed the app first, I contacted all fuel stations and they didn’t even realise this was a problem,” says El-Assaad. He trialled the app at 60 stations through the UK in 2016 and rolled it out to thousands of stations across Britain in 2017.
“It gives disabled drivers confidence and independence when driving. It was a situation that was crying out for a simple yet effective tech solution that could be used by disabled drivers worldwide, so I am delighted and proud at how well the app has been received so far,”says El-Assaad. The app doesn’t include a payments option so users must pay by cash or card. Some fuel companies operate payment apps but these aren’t available in Ireland at present.
In Ireland, the Apple Green filling stations and the Supermacs service stations on the M6, M7 and M8 motorways have signed up to use the fuelService app. El-Assadd is hoping others will follow suit.
The app is free to use but the filling stations pay €120 a year to be included on it. Fifty per cent of these earnings goes to a local charity – the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland is the recipient in Ireland – and 50 per cent goes to El-Assad’s foundation, which funds spinal research. The app is also used in the Netherlands, Germany and Canada.
To download the free fuelService app, go to get.fuelservice.org