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9 Things Uber and Lyft Drivers Should Know About Disabled Passengers

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Last month, Bryanna Copeland requested an Uber ride in Long Island, New York. But when the driver arrived and saw her wheelchair, he didn’t want to give her the ride anymore. Copeland tried explaining that not taking her because of her wheelchair was discrimination (especially because her wheelchair could easily fold up an fit in his car), but he still insisted she cancel the ride, which results in fees for the rider. In response to Copeland’s Facebook post about the incident, Uber gave her a refund and an apology.

Unfortunately, many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses know from personal experience that these kinds of incidents are not isolated. When we asked our Mighty community if any of them had been denied an Uber, Lyft or taxi ride because of their mobility aid or disability, dozens responded with their own stories.

Legally, drivers are not allowed to deny passengers a ride simply because they have a disability — they are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations. When asked by The Mighty, representatives from both Uber and Lyft said discrimination of passengers with disabilities is prohibited and drivers are required to adhere to laws requiring disabled passengers to be accommodated (however, if a large wheelchair cannot be accommodated even after reasonable effort, the driver can cancel the ride).

If a passenger does feel they were discriminated against due to their disability, both Uber and Lyft ask that the passenger contact the company’s support team and let them know of the incident.

Despite these rules, drivers still may not fully understand the needs of their disabled passengers or how to make them feel safe. So we asked our Mighty community to share something they wish drivers knew about their disabled passengers. When rideshare drivers understand their disabled passengers better, they can hopefully give them more respectful, safer rides.

1. No, walking short distances may not be possible.

For people with illnesses and disabilities, walking even a block or two can be painful and sometimes impossible. Please don’t assume they are being “lazy” and give them a hard time for needing a short ride.

“Even walking short distances is such a challenge for us because of walking difficulties or chronic pain,” Rhiann Jones said. “I know of many who have been belittled for ordering a taxi for traveling such short distances, making us feel that we are putting them out for doing so.”

Kathryn Holeywell added:

In London the drivers of black cabs want you to hop out early and walk the extra distance to your destination in bad traffic. But sometimes I simply can’t do this because my POTS/migraines/tachycardia, etc. is too awful. Or I’m too drained of energy from the drugs I take for inflammatory bowel disease… But these drivers pressure you and demand you get out. All because they don’t make money in standing traffic.

2. Your air freshener may be harmful for your passenger.

For some, perfumes and scents can trigger migraines, headaches, nausea, asthma attacks and more. You might consider keeping your car smelling fresh by opening the windows occasionally and just keeping it clean, rather than keeping a strong air freshener in it at all times.

“Air fresheners/fragrances make me very sick,” Sarah Langer said. “The thought of getting into a car with fragrance is enough to make me avoid using one of the services.”

3. Service dogs must be allowed into the car.

By law, both Uber and Lyft allow service animals to ride in vehicles, so drivers cannot deny rides simply because they don’t want to transport a service animal. Many people don’t realize that there is no single license, identification, vest or paperwork that “proves” an animal is a service animal, so drivers shouldn’t (and don’t need) to ask passengers for any verification that their service animal is “real.”

“Our service dogs have every right to be with us in your vehicle,” Shelby Koehler said. “When/if you deny us, you’re breaking the Americans with Disabilities Act (which is federal law) and Uber’s own policy.”

4. If your passenger doesn’t want to talk, they’re not trying to be rude.

There are many reasons why a passenger doesn’t want to talk. They may be in pain or fatigued, which can make small talk feel impossible. They might have a mental health condition like anxiety or depression that makes conversation difficult. They may be nonverbal or have a speech disability. And remember, all of these things can be “invisible.” Passengers shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if they prefer a quiet ride.

Stacey-Jane Yuna Bridgewater said:

I’m not being rude, I just don’t have the energy to get into a conversation like normal, healthy passengers. Normally, by the time I’m heading home, I’m so fatigued and in such pain that I’m concentrating on sitting as comfortably as possible and taking deep breaths until I get home and can collapse… I’m conserving all the last dregs of energy I have to be able to get home and I can’t possibly concentrate on a conversation with brain fog and intense pain.

5. Passengers with mobility devices aren’t trying to make your drive more “difficult.”

People with disabilities don’t use mobility aids “just for fun” or because they want to watch you put it in the car. They need these devices, and a driver’s pleasant attitude and willingness to accommodate them (which they are required to do) will go a long way in helping them feel more supported and safe.

“We know it’s a pain for you to help us get our wheelchairs in the car,” Casey Willis said. “If we could get in ‘normally,’ we would. We aren’t doing it on purpose.”

I didn’t ask for my disability any more than I asked for brown hair and eyes,” Bay Howe said. “But my medical equipment is as necessary for me to function; it isn’t optional.”

6. Please be kind if a passenger needs to hop out to go to the restroom.

Some illnesses, like Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease, may require frequent bathroom breaks. Passengers aren’t trying to inconvenience you and are probably feeling anxious and embarrassed. Please just be kind.

“If we need to pull over for a restroom, please do not give us a hard time about it. Some of us can’t hold it, and if you are considerate of that, we may actually tip you even better than the norm,” Jacky Rodriguez said. “We are not trying to be a pain, we really can’t wait!”

7. Not all disabilities and illnesses are visible, and you don’t have to be “old” to be sick.

Even if a passenger doesn’t “look” like they need accommodations, that doesn’t mean they’re “faking” or trying to be difficult. Young people and people who look completely healthy may use mobility aids or have difficulty walking and getting into and out of the car.

“I look young, but I have arthritis,” Elaine Wiley said. “I can’t jump into and out of a car quickly. My steps in and out of cars are carefully planned because one wrong move means days (or weeks) of pain.”

8. Be patient if the passenger needs more time getting into or out of the car.

Passengers with illnesses and disabilities may require some extra time getting into and out of the car, whether due to pain, mobility devices or keeping track of their supplies and tools. They aren’t trying to slow down your day — chances are they are very aware of any impatience on your part and appreciate your willingness to accommodate them.

“It may take us longer to get to the car and we are stressed about their waiting on us,” Karla Eldridge said.

“I’m not slow on purpose,” Sarah Shaw added. “Yes, I look young because I am, but the pain is very real.”

9. Some passengers may need you to turn off or change the music.

Music and loud noises, in general, can trigger migraines, sensory overload or other health flare-ups. Like passengers who don’t want to talk, passengers who don’t want to listen to music aren’t trying to be rude — trust that you can give them a more comfortable ride by turning the music off if they ask.

If I ask you to please turn off the music, I’m not being whimsical or rude,”  Nieves Diricaw said. “It’s just that I can’t stand such loud noises because of my migraines.”

Above all: Be patient and kind. Passengers with disabilities are not trying to purposefully inconvenience you — they are just trying to get from point A to point B like everyone else. It’s up to you to help them have a safe, pleasant experience in your car.

Photo courtesy of Uber

Originally published: July 7, 2018
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