Rain beats on my head, a few degrees above making the drops snow. With the wind blowing off the lake, I may as well be standing in the middle of a blizzard … without the protective clothing because this downpour wasn’t predicted. Nor is my guide dog wearing her raincoat. She sits beside me, shivering and otherwise unmoving, loyal and obedient despite the circumstances.
Contributed by Alice Eakes, you can read more from her at Ableism Disables
Those circumstances are one more Uber driver who has refused our trip due to the presence of the dog. The app said he was there. He pulled up in front of the pharmacy where I’d gone to get my COVID booster. I heard the car idle in front of me a few yards, so walked toward it, hand on my dog’s harness.
The instant I touched the left rear fender, he took off and canceled the trip …. He then charged me a cancellation fee.
I pull out my phone and order another car. This time, I take the precaution of letting the driver know I am blind and traveling with a service dog. Seconds after I hit send, the driver cancels the trip—or rather, sends it to another driver. Fortunately, this one takes us, though he admits he’s afraid of dogs.
An unfortunately typical experience
I wish this were an unusual experience. For blind people all over the U.S., maybe the world, we know it is not. Although Uber has been sued more than once and ordered by a federal judge to stop their drivers from not taking service dogs, the occurrences of ride refusal are horrendous. I’d say one third of my rides are refused. I call and complain. I fill out forms. I talk to Uber employees. I get my money back for trips for which I have been charged, and nothing improves. Nothing has improved in the four years since I brought my dog home.
She’s small at 45 pounds. She’s clean and gentle and well-behaved. She does not get on seats. She does not bark or whine or do anything naughty except perhaps sniff the floor a little more than I like. Yet we have been left standing in 95 degree temperatures with no shade, and pouring down rain with no shelter; left standing when I had a leg injury, and left standing with groceries. The drivers don’t care. They think the car is theirs and therefore their right to refuse whom they like. Some drivers have even wanted to put my dog in the trunk or the hatchback.
You never separate a blind person from their guide. This is unsafe for the dog and the user. When I refuse, the driver refuses the trip.
Once I had a driver cancel the trip when I had even gotten into the vehicle. He claimed he was suddenly sick.
Filing complaints changes nothing
Filing complaints changes nothing. The rideshare companies; i.e., Uber and Lyft, tell us drivers are removed from the platform if they do this more than once. We have no proof of this, and it happens so much, we doubt they do more than suspend them.
Before I even received my dog, I had drivers leave me the instant they found out I am blind. A few times when I have gone somewhere without my dog since then, I have had drivers drop the trip the instant I ask them to let me know where they are since I can’t see them.
… or gets me blackballed
For a while, I tried using taxis. I got treated the same way. When I filed a complaint against one driver, I discovered I could suddenly no longer get a taxi ride. I’d been blackballed for filing a complaint regarding my rights being violated.
With COVID (and in the winter), rideshares and taxis are more critical than ever for disabled people
Especially now, in a Midwest winter, when walking is not easy due to the weather, and during COVID, when I’d rather not take a bus or train and expose myself to many people, rideshare has grown more important. So, being denied a trip has made me late for medical appointments, breakfast at a friend’s house, and work meetings. Blind people, just like other people, have places to go and dates to keep. In many places, public transit is not available, is too far from the location, or is simply inconvenient such as when bringing home groceries. Yet rideshare programs such as Uber and Lyft and, yes taxi companies, pay lip service to accessibility, while allowing their drivers to thumb their noses at the law.
On Uber Pet – it isn’t just separate, it’s not equal
As a postscript, I wish to note that Uber now has Uber Pet. People have suggested I use that. Here are some reasons why I do not:
- It is less available and therefore takes longer to get a trip.
- It costs more.
- I have a right to take the same kind of trip as any sighted person and expecting me to take Uber Pet is not merely separate, it is not equal either.