Under fire from lawsuits, Uber courts deaf drivers

The company has been accused of not catering to the needs of the disabled community

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
May 28, 2015
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Uber, more than most companies, seems to find itself constantly embroiled in one controversy or another. But the company is also become a master of spinning out of those situations; after all, it has hired some very powerful people to do that job.

It's latest snafu might be one of the more embarrassing ones: it has been accused, multiple times now, of not catering to the disabled. First, in April, the company was said to be discriminating against blind people by refusing to transport guide dogs, or in one case putting the dog in the trunk. Then, last week, another suit came down saying that Uber, and its main competitor Lyft, both have not made their vehicles wheelchair accessible

This is not a good look for Uber, obviously, so what does the company do? It goes out of its way to cater to a portion of the disabled community, though not either of those who are currently suing it.

The company revealed new updates to its app on Thursday, which are specifically catered to drivers who are hard of hearing.

The app signals a new trip request with a flashing light, in addition to the existing audio notification, and it allows drivers to turn off the option to call them, so riders can only send a text if they need to get in touch with their driver.

In addition, the app will add an extra prompt for riders to enter their destination (I always do this anyway, because even drivers who can hear will usually get the address wrong), and it also lets the rider know that their driver is deaf or hard-of-hearing.

"These updates incorporate suggestions and feedback from our partners as well as the National Association of the Deaf, the nation’s leading non-profit advocating for economic empowerment for deaf and hard-of-hearing people," Uber wrote. "While the changes themselves are small, we’re confident of the significant impact they can have for drivers and their riders."

The features are now being tested in just a few major cities at the moment, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

They are already being hailed as a triumph by some of those in the disabled community.

“The NAD applauds the efforts of Uber to promote increased work opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers. Moreover, we commend Uber for enhancing their mobile app to improve communications between drivers and passengers, regardless of whether they are hearing or deaf," Howard Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer, The National Association of the Deaf, said in a statement. 

While these types of updates are always welcome, they will not hide an uncomfortable truth: Uber has maintained that, because it is a technology company, and not a transportation company, it therefore is not subject to laws regulating public transit and other transportation providers, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That fact will be settled by the courts, no doubt, but by not abiding by such laws and regulations, Uber could be shooting itself in the foot. These types of actions may prove to be extremely damaging to Uber where it really counts, to its users, who may find themselves going elsewhere when they need a ride.

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Description: Uber is a ridesharing service headquartered in San Francisco, United States, which operates in multiple international cities. The company...