Kai @kai.owens is blind and has never been able to drive, so services like Uber and Lyft have the potential to give him freedom. Their apps are accessible with his iPhone’s accessibility settings and the idea of catching a ride at will gives him a sense of freedom. Unfortunately, these services often marginalize the very communities that could most benefit from their services.
(Picture description: Kai stands with his German Shepherd guide dog named Pride)
Recently, a driver told Kai, “I think you should carry a blanket to place on the floor under your dog, so I don’t have to deal with the dog hair.” ADA law protects guide dog access. If dog hair is the concern, rideshare drivers should consider carrying a blanket or lint brush to protect the floorboards and interior from dog hair. But what’s worse is that some drivers flat-out refuse service causing frustration, tardiness, and danger.
Kai lives about three hours away from home on his college campus. He called me one day to vent, saying, “I used the Uber app to request a ride to a doctor’s appointment. The app said it would be a fifteen-minute wait, so I sat down and waited near my pickup location. When the driver arrived, they messaged me saying that they could not find me. So, I called the driver and gave them a better idea of my location.”
Then the driver asked, “Is that you in the grey shirt?”
He said, “Yes.”
Then she asked, “With the dog?”
He said, “Yes.”
The driver pulled up slowly along the sidewalk next to him, then kept rolling forward. At first, he hoped that she had just pulled up further looking for a safe place to stop, but then she hung up the call and cancelled his ride.
Uber has stranded him before, but this felt more personal because the driver acknowledged seeing him, then canceled while talking to him. It deeply affected him. He expressed anger and hurt over the overt discrimination and ableism.
He booked a new ride and the App said it would be a twenty-two-minute wait. He used that time to contact the doctor’s office to let them know that he’d be late. They told him if he was more than fifteen minutes late they’d need to reschedule his appointment and he’d receive a last-minute cancellation fee. He explained the full situation and they waived their policies and said they’d do their best to work him in upon arrival. Next, he messaged the Uber helpline through their app. Uber sent him a response that read, “What you’ve reported is extremely concerning, and we’ll do everything to help. Discrimination is never allowed on the Uber platform. We see you’ve reached out via email and in-app about this issue and a member of our team will be following up as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience.”
We posted about Kai’s Uber experience on our social media platforms. Many blind individuals and guide dog handlers responded by sharing their rideshare access and denial experiences. In Kai’s situation, Uber refunded his ride that day, but never addressed the larger issues related to access and ADA law.
For example, our friend Heather @DJHeyOfficial a totally blind DJ who specializes in performing at melodic trance music events and hosts a radio show called “Trance By Touch” on Friday and Saturday nights via www.twitch.tv/djheyofficial at 7 P.M Pacific time, and who has a monthly show on www.mixcloud.com/DJHeyOfficial, shared:
“While I’ve mostly had great experiences with Lyft drivers in the past, these situations I’ve had with drivers are the reasons why I think their staff need to improve on training their drivers on how to assist people with disabilities. I had a Lyft driver who scammed me out of money the moment he found out I’m blind.
I’ve had drivers who’ve canceled my ride when they found out I’m blind and made me wait for somebody else to accept my request. Sometimes, even after I would call the driver to let them know I’m blind, sometimes they would still ask me visual questions, such as are you on this side of the street? There was another time when I waited for my Lyft driver, and I heard a car honk at me, but I thought it was just somebody on the street honking at someone else. I called them a few minutes later and asked if that was them who honked at me, and they said yes. But I then told them that’s not the appropriate way to notify somebody who’s blind or visually impaired that they’ve arrived, especially if there are multiple cars out on the street.
I can’t stress enough how important this is for Lyft drivers to verbally communicate with their passengers, especially if the person who’s waiting for their driver is totally blind or can’t see details of what the driver looks like or the car they’re driving.
I had a situation where a Lyft driver randomly grabbed my arm and started pulling me, and they didn’t even say they were my Lyft driver. Other times, drivers have grabbed onto the other end of my cane as I was walking to find the door.
I explained to them how randomly grabbing a person who’s blind or visually impaired isn’t the best way to help. They then said they weren’t trying to hurt me, but they were just trying to help me get to the car. And I said to them if they’re unsure how to help, the best thing to do would be to ask what would be the best way to assist them.”Heather
(Picture description, Heather holds her white cane.)
Our friend Tony @blind_strength_tt, a blind guide dog user and high school teacher from Columbus, Ohio shared:
“I’ve stopped using Uber and Lyft unless I get stranded. The drivers don’t have to go through any specific training for ADA issues; they just check a box when signing up to drive. I have had drivers literally drive passed me when they caught sight of my guide dog or throw a tantrum when I try to get in. If I use a cane, there’s no problem. Many do not understand what a service animal looks/acts like and assume you’re bringing a pet.”Tony
(Picture description: Tony and his guide dog, a German Shepherd, stand next to a statue of a man with a German Sheperd guide dog.)
The idea of drivers leaving Kai stranded is frightening. Recently this happened on the way home from a contract job in Tampa, Florida. He arrived at the Atlanta airport and booked an Uber back to campus. He waited on the busy rideshare platform and the driver canceled at the last minute. We can only assume they drove up, saw the dog, and canceled his ride. He requested another after the cancellation, and it was never accepted. So, after waiting an hour, he called me, and we booked him on a Groome Shuttle to campus. However, the shuttle picks up from a different place at the airport. Kai navigated to the area that the shuttle operator had provided, but once there, no one could tell him exactly where to go. He called me again, and I pulled up an airport map online. He needed to go back inside the airport and out a side door to access the shuttle platform. I stayed on the phone with him until he successfully navigated to the area. Once there, the shuttle driver took over and helped him to get situated on the bus.
Unfortunately, the Groome shuttle’s closest drop-off point is just over a mile from his house. They dropped him at the stop late at night and he had to navigate the streets with his guide dog and luggage. Due to all the travel delays, his phone battery died, so he couldn’t call us, or his roommate and we could not track his location. I felt an immense surge of relief when I finally got a notification that he made it home.
The lack of service and accountability that guide dog users report is blatant discrimination and ableism. Rideshare services need to train their drivers to provide equal access to customers with disabilities and service dogs. When I posted about this on social media, Uber drivers responded that they do not want dogs in their cars and that they feel it should be “their choice” whether to pick up a person with a service dog. Others have said, “I’m allergic to dog fur.” Uber and other rideshare providers must address these issues head-on. In my opinion, drivers who are allergic or who simply refuse to follow ADA law should drive for Uber eats or have another job that doesn’t require them to drive the public. Unfortunately, drivers do not seem to be held accountable for breaking ADA law, so we must continue to raise our voices on the issue.
Thanks to the push for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workforce, there are a lot of DEI consultants offering services to employers to help them understand discrimination and ableism. Hopefully, things will improve, but it’s disheartening to know that in 2023 (more than thirty years after the ADA protections became law) people and employers believe that access and inclusion are optional.
How to Report UBER Access Issues and Service Denials
Click here to access Uber’s Service Dog Policies.
Report by Phone:
Uber just announced a phone number (1-833-715-8237) specifically for people with Service Animals who are denied service. The employees who answer are specifically trained to handle such calls. This line is active 24/hours a day in both the U.S. and Canada. This is only for Service Animals issues.
Report in App:
Go to the Accessibility Help Center then,
- Tap the menu button in the top left corner.
- Select Help.
- Scroll down to Accessibility.
- Choose Riding with Service Animals, then U.S. Service Animal Policy.
How to Report LYFT Access Issues and Service Denials
Click here to access Lyft’s Service Animal Policy
Report by Phone:
To report a Service Animal Policy violation, call 1-844-1297
Click here to report a Service Animal Policy violation.
What Else Can We Do?
CONTACT THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Report Rideshare access and denial issues to the Department of Justice (DOJ) by clicking here. The DOJ has successfully settled a class action suit alleging that Uber violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the agreement, Uber will offer several million dollars in compensation to more than 65,000 Uber users who were charged discriminatory fees due to disability. Click here to access an article about that case and the settlement.
CONTACT THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
The NFB has a survey form you can complete to let them know about your rideshare access and denial experiences. The form can be found by clicking here. The NFB has also been successful at holding Uber accountable for providing services to guide dog handlers. Click here to access an article about that case and the settlement.