Disability rights groups sues Uber over wheelchair access

Posted at 1:33 PM, Oct 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-13 16:33:36-04

A Chicago disability rights group sued Uber Thursday over wheelchair accessibility, arguing the mobile ride-hailing company's adherence to federal disability laws "ranges from token to non-existent" despite its expanding role in the nation's transportation system.

The 19-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago and several individuals, seeks an order requiring that Uber comply with the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, by making far more wheelchair-accessible vehicles available.

"That position threatens a return to the isolation and segregation that the disability rights movement has fought to overcome," the filing says.

A Chicago spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Uber Technologies, Inc., didn't have an immediate comment.

The ADA was considered a landmark in bids for equal rights for the disable. But both Uber and rival Lyft, which allow customers to use a cellphone app to pay drivers who use their own cars, have argued previously that they are technology, not transportation firms and so aren't subject ADA mandates. The new suit also seeks a definitive ruling that the ADA does apply to Uber and similar companies.

Uber does offer a service called UberWAV, which allows would-be customers to locate vehicles with ramps or lifts. But Thursday's suit says Uber's mobile map frequently indicates that no such vehicles are available anywhere in or near Chicago.

The suit also alleges that Uber's success in the Chicago market is threatening to reduce the fleet sizes of traditional cab companies, which are subject to stricter accessibility requirements. Access Living's president, Marca Bristo, says the legal action is "a fight to avoid losing ground, as Uber pushes out existing accessible transportation services, further limiting options for people with disabilities."

In an attempt to demonstrate how hard it is for disabled people to utilize Uber, the suit cites data that Uber provided nearly 2 million rides in Chicago in June of last year alone. But it says Uber gave just 14 rides to motorized wheelchair users over a four-year period starting in 2011.

Rahnee Patrick, a plaintiff in the case who uses a wheelchair, says the lack of suitable Uber vehicles shouldn't force the couple to travel separately.

"Going to dinner with my husband should be the same for me as it is for everyone else," she said in a statement released by Access Living.

Earlier this year, Uber and advocates for the blind reached a lawsuit settlement in San Francisco in which Uber agreed to require that drivers confirm they understand their legal obligations to transport riders with guide dogs or other service animals. Uber didn't admit any liability and it denied violating any laws.