I was asked for my thoughts surrounding the implications of “sharing” services, like that of Uber, on people with disabilities at a workshop held at the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) today. And since I was unable to attend in person, I was kindly given the opportunity to have my written words represent my interests instead. What follows are those words…
In all honesty, my initial approach toward these thoughts consisted of little more than what I’ve heard/ read about Uber from various sources, namely from the news media. And I’ll admit, that was unfair. But also consider one “source,” a Blind colleague, who was denied service because she was accompanied by a service animal, and charged a cancellation fee on top of everything, was what I drew my impressions from most!
And this wasn’t an isolated incident, for her I mean. It’s happened to her before at least one time previous (turns out it has happened fourteen or fifteen other times). And what happened after – I have no idea what amends, if any, were offered – is of little consequence; it happened. What I’m driving at here is Uber has a public perception problem as a result. However, that’s a separate issue – one potentially solved with training.
But what concerns me more about Uber’s intention to provide its customers an accessible service is what this effort will result in when it comes to Uber’s reliability.
What’s on the line
Take me for example. I’m a Quadriplegic, who weighs in excess of 500 pounds in my chair, should I expect all people who wish to drive for Uber have access to an accessible, converted vehicle?
Let’s be real, transferring me into a car and tossing my chair into the trunk isn’t an option. And no, I’m not suggesting this is how Uber deals with it’s wheelchair customers, I’m merely painting you a picture that puts what a person like me has on the line when it comes to my transportation and what I would have to invest before attempting to use services such as Uber. And what that investment primarily consists of: trust.
Given the diversity and sensitivity of needs dealing with the public presents, public trust is what’s of paramount importance here. Transporting certain disabled individual involves some forethought and planning. It’s a much bigger deal than the word of a driver to return on time – no offence meant. These details need to be arranged before embarking on the trip and absolutely guaranteeing those expectations will be met. I guess the real question laying at the root of all this is what incentive will a disabled person, like me specifically, have to use Uber?
I’m merely pointing to a scenario where a person could get themselves stranded – provided they could get somewhere to become stranded and be unable to get back at the unintended fault of Uber. Being a disabled individual, I’m required to put my trust in people and equipment that most wouldn’t need to. Or even fathom having to.
One thing seems clear to me, Uber must earn trust from all their customers, and from their disabled customers especially – according to the press I’ve seen, at the very least, they still have some serious adjustments to make. And work much harder to keep their customers trust.