by Valerie Yingling
From the Editor: Many blind people have welcomed the arrival of new ridesharing services with open arms, but the same cannot be said for the services, which sometimes have refused to provide rides to blind passengers accompanied by guide dogs. In this article Valerie Yingling, legal program coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind, discusses settlements between the National Federation of the Blind and the two major ridesharing services that operate in the country, Uber and Lyft. Here is what she has to say:
Within the last year, the National Federation of the Blind has resolved allegations of discrimination against both Uber and Lyft. In landmark settlement agreements, both companies have agreed to revise their policies and procedures to prevent drivers from discriminating against riders with service animals. With these agreements, the NFB has pushed back against biases and misconceptions regarding the blind and their service animals. Policy and procedure changes outlined in the Uber and Lyft settlement agreements are designed to afford blind riders with service animals the ability to travel to doctors’ appointments, school, work, grocery stores, and elsewhere, with the same ease of travel that Uber and Lyft offer to sighted customers. In short, the agreements support our living the lives we want, and the NFB commends both Lyft and Uber for instituting these changes.
As a result of the settlement agreements, both Uber and Lyft now require that existing and new drivers acknowledge their legal obligations to transport riders with service animals. Both companies have adopted stricter enforcement policies—if Uber and Lyft drivers knowingly deny rides to individuals with service animals, the drivers will be immediately terminated. Additionally, if either company receives plausible reports that a specific driver refused to transport or otherwise discriminated against riders with service animals on more than one occasion, that driver will be terminated, regardless of the driver’s intent. Uber and Lyft have agreed to improve their complaint procedures, including implementing more effective customer service responses to riders who register service animal discrimination complaints. See the agreement terms in full at https://nfb.org/rideshare.
The National Federation of the Blind will coordinate with both Uber and Lyft to gather data on the success of these efforts for the three- to five-year duration of the agreements. The NFB will gather feedback from its membership on both ride denials and the quality of rides provided for individuals with service animals. This testing will be a critical tool for measuring Uber and Lyft’s compliance with its NFB settlement agreement.
Testing Program Specifics
This is where we need your help. The Uber and Lyft testing program is open to all NFB members and nonmembers nationwide. Riders with service animals or individuals traveling with riders with service animals are asked to complete the following online questionnaire promptly after requesting and/or completing a ride with Uber or Lyft: https://nfb.org/rideshare-test. This testing tool will be used to measure not only ride cancellations and denials, but also whether a driver appeared to understand his or her obligations to provide equal access and to not discriminate as per the protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, testers will provide the following information via the online questionnaire.
Uber and Lyft Testing Questions
Please note that the Lyft agreement contemplates that the NFB will conduct targeted testing in predetermined metropolitan areas. Those areas are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, and the District of Columbia. NFB’s testing reports to Lyft will be built around the experiences of riders in these cities. That does not mean, however, that we don’t want to hear from Lyft riders outside of those cities. The testing tool is not restricted by geographic area, and we welcome Uber and Lyft testing across all affiliates. I’m pleased to note that the testing tool will also be available in Spanish.
NFB’s testing program will open on May 8, 2017. If you are an Uber or Lyft customer who has a service animal or travels with someone who has a service animal, I strongly encourage you to participate in the testing program. Please know that the NFB’s feedback to Lyft and Uber will only be as strong as the data we gather from testers. Please plan to join us on May 8 and for the duration of our testing program!