“It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.”—Steve Jobs
Uber and Lyft are technology companies, disseminating information to both passengers and drivers, bringing the two together thousands of times a day and allowing people to safely get to their destination. As with anything involving technology, though, things change and develop at audacious speed. Growth happens quickly, making it easy to overlook things.
One of the things that was overlooked as rideshare quickly grew was the way rideshare drivers, and the companies they worked for, addressed disabled passengers. It created a lot of bad feelings in the disabled communities.
This is where it comes back to faith in people.
The 2020 US Census Bureau reports that almost one in five Americans has a disability. There are those that rely on a wheelchair, walker, or crutches for support, but other disabilities include the sight-impaired, hearing-impaired, epileptic, depressed, and anxious (notice that not all of these disabilities are readily apparent).
It’s incumbent on drivers, as the front-line contact in the rideshare industry, to recognize these disabilities and create amazing experiences for these passengers, as they do for all their passengers.
In this blog post, we cover the following:
- Just a few bad experiences are enough.
- Lyft and Uber are proactive about how disabled passengers are treated.
- What can drivers do?
- You can make a difference.
- Gridwise can help.
Just a few bad experiences are enough
There have been several instances where the interactions between drivers for Lyft or Uber and disabled passengers were inexcusable. In 2019, Joshua Foster, a 35-year-old paraplegic from Concord, CA, called for a rideshare. Foster related what happened in an article on ABCNews.com.
“He looked at me and he just literally went, ‘No-o-o-o-o-o. No. No. No. No. No. I can’t do this,’ ” Foster recalled, shaking his head vigorously as the driver did. “I was like, ‘Are you sure?”’
Foster tried to explain he didn’t need help, that he could get in and out of the car himself.
“I was like, ‘Hey man this is how it goes. I’m gonna hop on the seat, the wheels come off, the cushion comes off, I’ll fold it and it sits right behind me ’cause, I drive my own self.'” Foster recalled saying. “He goes, ‘No! Shut the door.’ He just backed up and I’m like– wow.”
The Uber driver took off, leaving Foster in the driveway.
It’s enough to make any conscientious rideshare driver wince in shame and disbelief.
There have been other missteps. In July 2022, as reported by the New York Times, the justice department settled a lawsuit for more than $2 million with Uber over its alleged failure to adjust wait times for disabled passengers. Uber denied the claims in the settlement agreement, pointing to their efforts in adjusting wait times for disabled passengers and developing other programs for them.
TechCrunch reported that Lyft settled a lawsuit in 2020 involving drivers that would not accommodate passengers with folding wheelchairs. There have also been other legal actions against both companies.
Lyft and Uber are proactive about how disabled passengers are treated
The rideshare companies understand that in many cases drivers encounter situations for which they have not been prepared. It is difficult to enforce policies for hundreds of thousands of gig workers.
In the past few years, both companies have developed programs, including videos and other materials, for drivers who encounter disabled passengers.
They have also established policies. A Lyft or Uber driver refusing a disabled passenger can, in some cases, be deactivated from the platform.
Let’s take a closer look at the programs from Lyft and Uber for handicapped passengers.
Policies have been developed by Lyft for handicapped passengers. These include
Foldable wheelchairs. Lyft requires drivers to transport passengers who use foldable mobility devices. They also inform drivers on their website that the law requires drivers to transport these passengers. Watch Lyft’s videos for how to fold these wheelchairs.
If you as a driver encounter a passenger in a wheelchair and you are not quite sure how to fold it, don’t hesitate to ask. This is a question a wheelchair-bound person regularly encounters.
Service animals. Lyft also has a video on service animals.
Wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Lyft has a wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) program. Riders can register on the app. When they call for a ride, the options available (Lyft, Lyft XL, Lyft Black, etc.) to them also include Lyft ACCESS, which summons a wheelchair car. Lyft operates the program in nine US cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, and San Francisco. The program accepts both regular wheelchairs and motorized ones. No word if Lyft plans to roll out the program in additional cities.
According to a Lyft spokesperson, “Lyft estimates that over 3 million riders with a disability use the Lyft platform, eighty-two percent of riders with a disability report that Lyft has increased their independence, and 94% report that Lyft has increased their access to transportation.”
The spokesperson also states that those drivers who deny or otherwise discriminate against rides can be removed from the Lyft platform.
Lyft Assisted. Last year Lyft launched Lyft Assisted, a program that helps passengers with health challenges get to routine medical appointments. Lyft Assisted rides resulted in about 20% fewer no-shows than standard concierge healthcare ride services.
Wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Uber has a similar program to Lyft, also called WAV, which operates in eleven test cities, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland,San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Like Lyft, Uber’s WAV vehicles can accommodate both regular and motorized wheelchairs. Rates for the Uber WAV are similar to UberX.
Driver outreach. Uber’s website advises drivers that they must do everything possible to help transport disabled passengers, that it is both Uber policy and federal law.
To ensure their efforts answer the needs of the disabled community, both Uber and Lyft have partnered with the Open Doors Organization, a nonprofit based in Chicago that addresses accessibility issues for disabled people.
What can drivers do?
If you drive for any length of time, you’ll probably get a rideshare request from a disabled passenger, specifically someone in a wheelchair. Let’s look at some guidelines to keep in mind.
- Pull as close to the curb or the person’s location as possible
This will make things easier for both you and your passenger. Disabled people are not purposely trying to make life difficult for rideshare drivers. Barriers, such as broken pavement, cannot be crossed.
Greet them as you would any other passenger
Most disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs, prefer to be treated the same as anyone else. That’s the best way to start.
- Ask the passenger for guidance
No one expects you to know everything. Chances are the disabled passenger has used rideshare before. They can help you through the process. Many disabled people can transfer themselves into your car. Most of them, however, need you to collapse or break down the wheelchair and put it in your trunk. If you ask, they can talk you through the process.
Expect that you will have to reverse the process when you arrive at their destination.
- Talk to the disabled person
Address the disabled person, even if they have a companion. No one wants to be ignored. Depending on the disability, communication might be difficult. Remember that a smile, a gesture, and a warm hello can go a long way. This is your opportunity to be awesome.
- Keep space in your trunk for a folded wheelchair
Given all the things a rideshare driver needs onboard in case of emergency (first aid kit, emergency road kit, etc.), there is often little trunk room left, but you always have space for suitcases for airport runs, so there should be enough room for a wheelchair.
- Keep in mind that not all disabilities are visible
Many people suffer from debilitating conditions such as depression, anxiety, or epilepsy—none of which may be readily apparent. And oftentimes these individuals do not communicate their disability. Be sensitive to this. Occasionally you may get a passenger that requests no communication. For some disabled people, getting through the day is a trying experience. They might need to take advantage of any chance to sit back and relax. Look for disabled bracelets on passengers that might clue you in to their disability.
- If you do have a medical emergency, call 911
Because not all disabilities are visible, and because disabled people don’t always reveal their conditions, there are occasional problems. If a passenger is having a medical issue, a seizure, or is otherwise non-responsive, don’t hesitate to call 911.
- Rideshare drivers must accommodate seeing-eye dogs and other service animals
These are well-trained animals that will usually sit or lay quietly on your car’s floorboard. Not allowing one in your vehicle is a violation of the law as well as the terms of service for both Uber and Lyft.
- Carry a blanket in your car
You might want to create a place for a service animal to lie, making them more comfortable while protecting your car from fur. A blanket can also be used to drape over a wheelchair in your trunk or back seat, helping to prevent damage. Carry a lint brush for removing fur, too.
- Accommodate special requests
For disabled people who suffer from migraines, even the most innocuous thing in your car can pose a problem. Individuals with allergic disorders might be sensitive to your air freshener. Others cannot tolerate loud music. Be prepared, too, that a disabled person might ask that you drop them off at a special entrance at their destination.
- At all times be patient
You will occasionally get a disabled passenger who has never used a rideshare, or does not go out much because of their disability. The process is as foreign to them as it is to you. Be patient and accommodating, knowing this ride may take more time than normal.
It is important to remember that a disabled passenger’s ride with you could be their first attempt at interacting with the world since becoming disabled.
You can make a difference
When it comes to Lyft and Uber handicapped transportation, one or two positive experiences can make an enormous difference.
“We need companies to provide and require accessibility training to its drivers that includes people with disabilities,” said Carol Tyson, a government affairs liaison for the Disability Rights, Education & Defense Fund, “and for the drivers to follow all the accessibility and nondiscrimination policies. Sometimes, drivers need to pull over to the curb and be patient when people with disabilities are trying to locate the car. We need more drivers with wheelchair-accessible vehicles and drivers that do not discriminate by giving lower ratings or canceling trips for wheelchair users or people with service animals, or any other protected class.”
A training video by Lyft was more to the point when it told drivers, “You’re empowering these passengers to live more independent lives in an often difficult-to-navigate, fast-paced world.”
Gridwise can help
If you purchase things like blankets or first aid kits to have for your passengers, you can write those expenses off. Gridwise will keep your gig earnings, business expenses, and miles in one place.
Whatever you do, be kind and courteous to all passengers – and have fun out there!