My Experience as a Blind Uber Passenger: Are Ridesharing Services Worth It?

“I’m visually impaired,” I began telling the Uber driver, but stopped half way through my sentence after realizing he hung up the phone. I had recently used Uber with another colleague, and decided to give it a try after seeing how easy and fast it was to get and pay for the ride. Ridesharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are becoming popular for many reasons. Anyone who owns a smartphone can download the respective apps and request rides in a matter of seconds. Those of us who have used taxicabs know that it can take a while for them to arrive, especially when in smaller cities.

I recently had to go to a work meeting on my own, so I decided that was the perfect opportunity to try Uber out. I had heard about their efforts to better accommodate people with disabilities, and was curious to see how drivers would react to and accommodate a blind person. You probably remember some of our previous commentaries regarding alleged discrimination from Uber drivers against people with service dogs. I have not heard of drivers refusing to pick up someone like me who uses a white cane, and therefore did not foresee myself running into any major issues.

The setup process

Prior to requesting the first ride, users have to open an account. This includes providing contact information, a profile picture and a credit card for billing purposes. The set up was fairly simple and accessible using VoiceOver – Apple’s screen-reading software designed for the blind and visually impaired. I also typed in assist, the promotional code which – according to Uber – lets drivers know the passenger has a disability. There are no other sections where users with disabilities can notify drivers of their specific needs or other details.

Requesting and getting the ride

After requesting my ride, I got a notification with the driver’s name, car model and estimated time of arrival (ETA). At this point in the process users can cancel the ride and text or call the driver. This last option can be helpful if you are blind and wish to give the driver more specific details about how to find you. All of this information is completely accessible with VoiceOver. My ride would arrive in about four minutes, so I decided to go outside making sure my cane was visible. I figured that way the driver could easily find me. Before I knew it my phone was ringing; it was my Uber driver!

The driver guided me to the car and we were on our way. Out of curiosity I asked him if he had received any type of instruction on how to help people with disabilities. While he hadn’t gotten this training from Uber, it turns out he worked as a cab driver for the city of Chicago. He had to learn about the ADA, service animals and people with disabilities in order to get his license.

When we arrived the driver got out of the car and assisted me to the entrance. Of course, the best part was that I didn’t have to fumble around in my wallet looking for cash. Once your ride ends Uber will automatically charge the ride to the credit card on file. Since my first experience with Uber had been very pleasant, I decided to use it again later that day to return to my office. The experience was equally pleasant, and the second driver was also friendly and helpful. Needless to say, I gave both drivers a five star rating!

If ridesharing services are available in your area, they might be a convenient way for you to get fast and affordable transportation. This is especially true if you are blind or visually impaired and need other transportation options. Unfortunately, much more needs to be done to make sure Uber and other ridesharing services are fully accessible to people with disabilities. I believe that if ridesharing providers take the time to train their drivers on the rights of people with disabilities, more individuals will have a positive experience. As a frequent cab and (as of last week) Uber passenger, I feel that most drivers do not discriminate against people with disabilities or who use service animals because they are rude. It could simply be a matter of informing them about the best ways to accommodate disabled individuals.

What has your experience been with ridesharing companies? Have you found them to be more or less helpful now that people with disabilities are advocating for equal access? Would you use or recommend them to others? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please send any questions or comments to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “My Experience as a Blind Uber Passenger: Are Ridesharing Services Worth It?”

Lee Burklund said on August 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Interesting article about negotiating a ride service that many take for granted! Thank you Sandy for sharing your experience.

Sandy's View said on August 25, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Thanks for your comment Lee! I think that if and when Uber and all of these ridesharing companies make their services more accessible, they have a lot of business potential in the disability community. After all a lot of us rely on public transportation, and you can’t beat a service that’s fast and affordable!

bethfinke said on September 27, 2015 at 3:31 am

Something VERY (and VERY is in all capital letters there) important to this post is that the reason your first driver knew about responding to people with disabilities is that Chicago cab drivers are REQUIRED (that is also in all capital letters!) to take a course in witch they learn about ADA laws and people with disabilities in order to get a cab license. This is my own personal problem with Uber –drivers are not required to take any courses or, really, do ANYTHING (all caps) to become a driver for Uber. If a licenses Chicago cab driver refuses to pick me up because of my disability they can be fined. If a UBER driver discriminates against a person with a disability there is no recourse. That’s because Uber drivers are not licensed, they are individuals using there own cars. I prefer licensed cab drivers.

Something VERY (and VERY is in all capital letters there) important to this post is that the reason your first driver knew about responding to people with disabilities is that Chicago cab drivers are REQUIRED (that is also in all capital letters!) to take a course in witch they learn about ADA laws and people with disabilities in order to get a cab license. This is my own personal problem with Uber –drivers are not required to take any courses or, really, do ANYTHING (all caps) to become a driver for Uber. If a licenses Chicago cab driver refuses to pick me up because of my disability they can be fined. If a UBER driver discriminates against a person with a disability there is no recourse. That’s because Uber drivers are not licensed, they are individuals using there own cars. I prefer licensed cab drivers.

Sandy's View said on September 28, 2015 at 3:34 pm

I’ve taken Uber several times after that day, and all experiences have been good so far. I do however wonder if they would be any different if, for example, I had a service dog. Honestly (and knock on wood) I haven’t had any problems with drivers — whether they be Uber or cab drivers — refusing to give me service when they see me with a white cane, and that’s probably why I don’t have any problems with them. Each time I take an Uber I do stop and wonder if the driver would have picked me up and reacted the same if he or she had seen me with a dog guide. I have a friend who’s in a wheelchair, and I know her major concern is the accessibility of Uber vehicles. Like you, she would have no way of complaining against Uber drivers if the car wasn’t accessible, which from what I’ve heard would be most likely given that the average person doesn’t drive wheelchair accessible cars. Thanks for your comment!

Tenzo said on March 2, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Speaking as an Uber driver;

You mentioned that you were pleased with the ride and happy with the service. That it was on par or better than a Taxi.

But you did not tip your Uber driver. Do you normally not tip Taxis?

Sandy said on March 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm

Hello Tenzo, thanks for reading and commenting! You are correct, I did not tip my Uber driver that first time. However, after using Uber for quite a few months I’ve realized it’s only fair to tip them, although I’m not required to do so. Still, given that I do ask for extra assistance I’ve learned that it’s wise of me to tip them, especially if they had a hard time finding my location or if I’m traveling a long distance. In the past when I used regular cabs I also made sure to tip them. Thanks for reading!

Albert Sullivan said on June 24, 2016 at 8:33 am

Uber drivers use their personal vehicles to provide rides. The line between service animals and pets has been blurred by the increasing use of so called comfort animals. Some people don’t like dogs some fear them and others just don’t want animals in their personal vehicles. Most cabs are not owned by the drivers. Litigation and liability are other concerns when interacting with the disabled. There used to be an ad there posed the question, how do you treat the disabled? Answer, like a person. Yet there are constant requests for special and or specialized equipment and services. Not being mean or insensitive , beca use it could very well be me.

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