Accessibility Remains a Challenge for Disabled Attendees

By Hayley Panagakis, November 16, 2015

The lack of vehicles to accommodate riders with disabilities in companies like Uber and Lyft has resulted in lawsuits in Arizona, California and Texas. These lawsuits state that Uber and Lyft should be held to the same expectations as public transportation based on the Americans with Disabilities Act—a law forbidding discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public accommodation and transportation—by having wheelchair-accessible cars and accommodating those with service animals.

Anthony Cahill, Ph.D., director of the division of disability and health policy at University of New Mexico School of Medicine, experienced this lack firsthand when coordinating the annual Southwest Conference on Disability in October for more than 1,000 people (half of whom are disabled) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Finding accessible vehicles in the area was a mixed bag, says Cahill, who relied primarily on the city’s public buses and Rail Runner Express commuter train for his attendees, as driving service is limited for guests in wheelchairs. “At least one Uber driver in Albuquerque has an accessible van,” says Cahill, who is reaching out to see if there are others, adding that zero taxis in the city are accessible for power wheelchairs, and the ADA-compliant Sun Van service is reserved for residents, with limited guest passes.

Until ride-hailing services are ADA-compliant (which likely won’t be soon, based on Uber’s claim that it isn’t subject to the same laws as taxis), it will take extra preparation for planners to accommodate attendees with disabilities. Cahill says planners should spend time researching a host city’s options for accessible transportation. “Be upfront about what isn’t widely available to attendees,” he advises. “Be honest when there are gaps, and let people make their own decisions about whether to attend.”

A Light at the End of the Tunnel
While Uber and other ride-hailing services have a long way to go to improve their disability programs, Uber has enacted these initiatives to better accommodate people with disabilities.

UberASSIST: Trains drivers to help riders with folding wheelchairs, walkers and scooters

UberWAV: Increases number of wheelchair-accessible cars

Uber app: Updates have added voice commands for blind riders

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