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Unequal Accessibility – Example of E-Hail Services

A line of cars with two in front having TAXI sign on top.

Accessibility is not always created equal. There are still misconceptions that there’s one size solution for all accessibility issues and that if something works for an individual with one type of disability it’s considered fully accessible for other disabled folks.

I would like to share my experience as a deaf user with e-hail services such as Uber, Lyft, and others. Before I continue, I would like to let you know that I’m focusing only on accessibility experience with e-hail services. I’m not discussing other issues with e-hail services that are outside of the scope of this article.

As someone who is deaf, I am frustrated with traditional taxi services. I have to write a note on my paper ready to show the destination to a driver and many of them are not deaf friendly and often mumble. Not to mention that I would have to make a call to get a cab – which is challenging for many deaf people.

When I started using apps by Uber and its competitors, it made my life so much easier. The apps were not perfect in the beginning, but they were updated over time based on the feedback from the deaf community. Those apps not only have improved experience for deaf passengers, but also increased employment opportunities for deaf drivers who normally would not be able to get jobs with a traditional taxi company.

I remember my experience using taxi services when visiting Chattanooga. I took Uber to go to Outlook Mountain which was not a problem. When I was going to get back to the city, I learned that Outlook Mountain is located in both Tennessee and Georgia. The part of the mountain that I arrived at is in Georgia that didn’t have Uber. So I had a local facility employee call a local taxi service for me. The taxi didn’t arrive and the company was rude to us when trying to follow up with them several times on the phone. I learned that Lyft works in Georgia, so I tried the app and was glad to find out that Lyft operated in that state. Once I ordered a cab via Lyft, a driver came in a few minutes. I remember sighing with relief when arriving back to the city – after my concerns about not being able to go back from the middle of nowhere! It made me realize once again how e-hailing services are much better than using traditional taxi services.

There are many things that I like about e-hail services apps – including but not limited to:

  • The ability to get a cab without the need to make a phone call;
  • The convenience of entering a destination in the app;
  • The option to communicate with a driver via texting when needed;
  • The convenience of cashless payment and receipts via email;
  • The ability to see available cars on the map before hailing;
  • The choice to select a pick up location by dropping a pin;
  • And many more.

In addition to this, Uber app has a red light feature to help a passenger and a driver find each other. I find it very useful.

However, there are drawbacks of e-hail services for people with other disabilities – especially for wheelchair users and people with service animals.

Drivers of Uber and other companies use their own cars, many of which are not wheelchair accessible. So wheelchair users sued the e-hail services companies. To improve services for those passengers, Uber and Lyft decided to partner with third party services. Uber teamed with MV transportation to provide WAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vans).

There are also many complaints from people who were denied a ride due to traveling with a service animal. So Uber made a policy to remove drivers who refuse a ride to passengers with service animals, but according to customers, it’s not always helpful if they keep running into drivers denying them a ride.

The following are accessibility pages on Uber, Lyft, and Via websites:

When thinking about accessibility, don’t limit it to just certain products or services or certain disabilities. And it’s important to include people with various disabilities throughout all phases of your product development.

If you have questions about making your product or service user-friendly and accessible, feel free to contact me.

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