I’m republishing this post since we’ve been named a finalist for the ITA Citylights Best Strategic Use of Technology Award! This collaboration between MPS/nAblement and Microsoft led to the development of the Fuel Call site and the Fuel Call Mobile application for Windows Phones. Please feel free to review the finalists and consider a vote for us in the Best Strategic Use of Technology category!
As I was on a break while attending the Healthcare Summit for Workers with Disabilities at Access Living in Mid-May, 2011 my phone rang. Patrick Hughes, Owner of Inclusion Solutions, a forward-thinking developer of human interface technologies to enable PWD to better access key services and opportunities such as voting booths, inaccessible storefronts, drive-thru restaurants and gas pumps at service stations, had called me with one question. “Hi Pat. Patrick Hughes here. Do you know anyone at Google?” Common to many entrepreneurs from my experience, Pat can make you feel as though you’ve come into the middle of a conversation that he’s been having with himself. I probed a bit and he made it clear that he really wanted to investigate getting a web site and mobile application developed for his FuelCall™ system.
As we have very strong relationships with Microsoft through both our ITKAN networking group as well as MPS Partners, I quickly turned the conversation to engaging them to make this happen. With the support of both Microsoft and MPS, the project quickly took shape. Bill Topel, Founder and Owner of MPS, pulled some Microsoft executives from the Chicago regional headquarters into the conversation and we had the support we needed to begin the development. That was the good news. The more challenging requirement was that the application needed to be developed on a fast track to align with Microsoft’s end of fiscal year.
A Real Solution for a Real Need
The project was launched and MPS Partners developer Corey Miller was assigned to work with the Inclusion Solutions team to create the site . Over the course of the summer the site took shape. A short sidebar note. I have a very personal stake in the development of this application, not specific to Inclusion Solutions’ success – though I certainly support that – but to expose what has been a 30-year challenge for me, and a challenge that I share with millions of other drivers with disabilities in our nation. Specifically, managing the process of getting in and out of your vehicle with the wheelchair, accessing the pump - which may vary in height, screen visibility, access to credit card slot, etc. , being aware of the movement of other vehicles while exiting and reentering your vehicle, managing a lift if you’re driving a van with a lift (true story – I had a car run over my lift at the gas station when I drove a van years ago), and on and on.
Without a solution like FuelCall in place at a station, drivers with a genuine need for assistance at the pump are left to either manage on their own, try to gain the attention, understanding and support of a station employee – and think about the frenetic nature of service stations at this stage, as well as the disinclination to “serve” - or not drive. Many stations have legal language accompanied by the universal disability icon suggesting that they comply to the law, but the reality for drivers with disabilities is not so clear. After 30 years of this challenge, what it clear to me is that most stations aren’t in the least concerned about serving their customers with disabilities. The last option that I referenced, not driving, is not an option. Drivers with disabilities value the independence, pleasure, need and right to operate their personal vehicles just as all other drivers. The ability to drive can often mean landing a job or not, engaging more actively in your community and the broader community, helping to support a family structure, and so much more.
This challenge is emblematic of the ongoing us vs. them relationship between the community of people with disabilities and the general population. In the evolved service station business model, the fuel purchase is the low margin sale that, hopefully, encourages customers to enter the “mart” and buy higher margin consumables like drinks, chips, candy, etc. For what it’s worth, the FuelCall model encourages station attendants to offer the driver with a disability the opportunity to order products from the store while their fuel is being pumped. I’m not endorsing or discounting this model, but I certainly understand why Inclusion Solutions presents this model to station owners. It’s encouragement to do what they are obligated to do under an element of Title III of the ADA. Fine by me. Whatever it takes to get this industry’s attention to accede to the law.
Check out the new Fuel Call site, http://www.fuelcall.net/ ,find those stations that have acquired the Fuel Call system, and plan that end of summer vacation, interview, family get-together, ballgame, or just follow the open road. Sign up for their newsletter to learn of stations near you that have acquired Fuel Call. Now you won’t be left wondering where you can fill up! Thanks to our partners at Microsoft and MPS for helping to support the complete integration of people with disabilities into society through the development of The Fuel Call web site. Windows 7 Phone users, you can now download the elegant Fuel Call Mobile application and give yourself the assurance of Fuel Call service on the road!