A new mobile phone app could be set to revolutionise the provision of assistance for disabled people across the transport, travel, leisure and retail industries.
The assist-Mi app is the brainchild of disabled entrepreneur Gary McFarlane, who describes it as “the first real-time mobility assistance app”.
The product has already struck a chord with major UK and international businesses, with one Asian airport operator hoping to use the app to provide a better service for its 75 million customers. The hope is to launch the app at an airport next spring.
As well as airports, airlines, rail and parking operators, local authorities and global service-providers have all shown “significant interest” in assist-Mi.
McFarlane said the idea for the app came from the frustrations of trying to secure the assistance he needed – when he needed it – during his regular worldwide travels working as an IT and accessibility consultant.
He began working on the idea nearly 10 years ago when trying to solve the problem of finding accessible parking spaces.
But he soon became convinced of the need for a technology tool that would make it easier for disabled people to use a whole range of everyday services, including petrol stations, banks, hospitals, restaurants, trains and airports.
The app allows the user to send a message through their mobile phone to a service-provider to alert them that they will need a particular service and assistance and – through the use of GPS technology – also lets them know when they will be arriving.
It allows the disabled person to plan their route and know in advance whether the necessary assistance will be available, and alerts the service-provider when they arrive.
McFarlane said: “The aim is to build the confidence of disabled people who want to use a service.”
Neil Herron, assist-Mi’s business development director, said the app – which they have pledged will always be free to use for disabled people – would “revolutionise the way we look at accessibility and service-provision”.
He said the ultimate aim was to provide a seamless experience from the beginning of a journey to its end, by allowing the disabled person to send their individual assist-Mi profile – containing all of their individual access needs – to each service-provider at the touch of a button.
The app impressed the disabled actor and writer Sophie Partridge so much that she invested in the company.
She said: “I very much like the fact that this is a product created by someone with real and personal experience of disability.”
And she said the concept of an assist-Mi profile – “so that you don’t have to keep sending your access needs information over and over again” – was “very appealing”.
She added: “As care packages and services are continually cut, I believe technology such as this app can serve a wider and wider community.
“Disabled people in particular could benefit here, as it’s a free method to ensure a reliable service can be delivered.
“The disabled individual will have done their part by providing the necessary information to service providers. It is then up to those companies to deliver.”