Uber is the ridesharing company that is best known both for turning anyone with a car into a taxi driver and for being on the wrong side of a whole bunch of public relations nightmares. The question of whether or not they have to start treating their workers like actual employees is still up in the air, while the problem of background checks for drivers has driven Uber out of some cities entirely. The advantages of ridesharing are obvious: you get on-demand transportation from a pool of drivers that is almost as endless as the population of your area. However, the latest question that is plaguing this on-demand company is: does Uber accommodate people with disabilities?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), transportation companies must offer equal access to all customers, including those with disabilities. Uber has been skirting this issue by maintaining that they are a tech company, not a transportation company. However, several lawsuits and even more activists are trying to hold ridesharing companies accountable for their transportations services, which means complying with the ADA. Uber has made some effort to make their service more accessible to people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, but the results have been decidedly mediocre.
Uber Has a Service for Disabled Riders, but Almost No Drivers
In order to provide ridesharing services to everyone, Uber has introduced two different programs designed specifically to help people with disabilities. UberWAV includes only vehicles that are equipped with hydraulic lifts to help people who use power wheelchairs and scooters. UberASSIST is a program that includes only drivers who have completed specialized training on how to help seniors and people with disabilities get into and out of an ordinary car. On paper, this sounds like a good step – although many activists feel that creating an entirely different service for the disabled community is a form of marginalization that promotes misunderstandings and discrimination. However, the big problem with these two programs is that there are hardly ever any drivers available to share rides.
UberWAV requires drivers to have special equipment which Uber does not pay for or reimburse. While some people may own vehicles like this already, very few have the extra time to be rideshare drivers. UberASSIST has more registered drivers, but there is no incentive for drivers to take the extra training course. In New York, Uber has partnered with taxi services (which do count as transportation companies and therefore abide by the ADA guidelines) to provide rides to people with disabilities, which seems strange since ridesharing is slowly making taxis irrelevant. Plus, these services are only available in about a dozen cities.
There is some hope, however. Earlier in the year, the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit against Uber claiming that the company has violated the ADA. Though Uber tried to have the case dismissed because they consider themselves a tech company, the Justice Department and California State Courts ruled that a suit could continue. A favorable ruling in this case could be the first step toward ridesharing companies being rightfully classified as transportation companies, which would require them to accommodate all riders at last.