Pushing for a more inclusive Uber 

Many people with disabilities enjoy the convenience and lower cost of ride sharing companies like Uber. It’s an incredibly useful service for people who can access it. But, to share my own personal experience using Uber, once a driver arrives to answer my ride request and realizes that I have a guide dog, they often uses the app to cancel my ride and leave me behind at a cost of $5! On occasions when my ride is not immediately cancelled, I am often asked demeaning questions such as when the last time my dog was bathed before I am allowed to board the vehicle. This is discrimination, plain and simple. 

Just last December, the Department of Justice issued a ruling that detailed the fact that, a company like Uber “may not contract away its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) responsibilities.” Just because Uber drivers are contractors, doesn’t mean that the company is not responsible. Despite Uber’s stance that individual drivers have the right to decide whether they want to serve people who use service animals, the ruling makes clear that businesses which serve the public do not get to pick and choose which parts of the ADA they observe. This is an affront, especially since all taxis in San Francisco are required by City ordinance to participate in wheelchair accessible transit. In fact, the taxi industry in San Francisco has been a partner in providing wheelchair accessible transit since 1981, long before it was required by ordinance or the ADA! 

It is wrong for newer ride sharing companies, innovative as they may be, to act as if they needn’t do their due diligence like other industries have been painstakingly, and sometimes begrudgingly, doing for years to live up to accessibility standards. By trying to evade their federal responsibility to provide accessible rides, ride sharing companies are not only stalling further progress, they are actively harming the current infrastructure of accessible transportation options. Taxi services cannot compete with their ride sharing competitors who feel they can bypass doing the modifications necessary to comply with the ADA. Due to this unfair market advantage, wheelchair accessible taxi trips have experienced a sharp decline (51 percent reduction) in the past two years, with drivers opting to work for ride sharing companies instead of taxi services. 

Unfortunately, we’ve had to have this fight before - many times over - for accessible busses, schools, and polling places, to name a few. There is an enduring inability for many people to clearly acknowledge when the civil rights of people with disabilities are not being respected. In a culture that fetishizes health and the “perfect body,” there is often an erasure of the humanity of folks who fall outside the norm. Equal opportunity for someone who uses a wheelchair requires an accessible infrastructure. It’s different than the infrastructure required to ensure a business serves people of all different races and what most people don’t understand is that in both instances, we are talking about the same thing: we’re talking about civil rights. 

Disability Rights Advocates is representing the National Federation of the Blind of California in a lawsuit which challenges refusals by drivers of Uber vehicles to transport Blind customers with Guide Dogs. At a hearing on March 3, the court tentatively ruled in favor of disability community, but the suit is still ongoing.

On days when I am not traveling with my dog, using only my white cane, Uber couldn’t be a more convenient choice. This makes it even more upsetting that they think they don’t have to follow the law when their services could be so helpful to many of us with disabilities. Let’s make sure ride sharing only adds to the number of transportation options for the whole community.

Jessie Lorenz is executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco.

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