On demand apps have changed my life.
I know that Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, Postmates, Instacart, or Amazon were not developed specifically for me–but sometimes it feels like they were.
I am a blind woman who lives independently in a car-dependent city. To go anywhere or get anything, I used to have to call a taxi and wait an hour. Or, if I was lucky, I could look to a family member or friend for a lift. Some people like me, who are brave enough, may deftly navigate public transportation services. But for me to really feel free and independent, nothing in the world has ever been easier than calling a car on a ridesharing app. Today, these services level the playing field for people with disabilities, ensuring they can live their lives as efficiently and independently as anyone else.
At least, that’s how it should be.
Imagine if you could, the person, place or experience you rely on the most, rejecting you at the door. That’s what happens to blind and low-vision people on an almost regular basis when it comes to calling a car. Getting a ride has never been easier, but sometimes you’ll be abandoned at the curb. Talk about bittersweet.
The time I remember most recently, I was in Las Vegas for a convention. In need of a ride from my hotel to the airport, I called the car and, when the driver arrived, he said “I don’t take dogs,” and drove away. No, he wasn’t talking about me. He was talking about my best friend Hope, the six-year old black labrador who is always by my side and to be honest, some days the only thing that gets me out the door in this crazy time of lockdown.
Now, let’s make a few things clear. With a guide dog, it’s very apparent that it’s a guide. Hope wears a harness, not a leash. And many drivers have no problem accepting her, She is, after all, well behaved and incredibly cute. Some drivers want to put a towel or blanket down, which is fine. Some drivers get annoyed because they have to vacuum. But regardless of their personal feelings, most drivers know they aren’t allowed to deny me service due to my disability.
Ride-sharing companies post their policies on service animals clearly on their website, with one company stating, “State and federal laws prohibit drivers [...] from denying service to riders with service animals because of the service animals, and from otherwise discriminating against riders with service animals.”
The car in Vegas drove away without me, but I still had Hope. I called in a complaint about the incident and got more rhetoric than reparation. The experience left me wondering how many other drivers are denying rides to people with service animals, and how many other blind and low-vision individuals like me have been left out in the cold (or in my case, heat).
It’s against the law to turn someone away because they have a guide dog, but does everyone understand that or even know that? These services are a massive opportunity for the disability community—they’re incredibly important. It opens up your world and your mind to all the things you can do, without having to ask permission from family or friends. That should be something to celebrate and share; not these stories where we’re so frustrated because of poor design.
I really do view this as a design problem, a gap in service, rather than some type of systemic discrimination. Our rideshare companies, and for that matter our food and other delivery services and all the other essential tech startups that we now rely heavily upon, owe it to those of us who have gotten stranded, gone hungry or not received what they needed because a design review or a customer support agent didn’t consider the experience of me and hundreds of millions of others with visual impairments.
I’ve found some workarounds for these apps and services – but they don’t always work. First off, I always send a message to my driver or clearly state in the “driver instructions” that I have a visual impairment and might not be able to spot the driver. This strategy works a lot of the time, but not always.
If drivers are unresponsive or don’t understand my message, that’s where it can get difficult. And even apps that are designed inclusively still have gaps in service and support: How do blind riders find a car if they can’t see it? How do blind customers find their food if they’ve requested contactless delivery? My job at Be My Eyes is to help companies find simple solutions to these and other seemingly difficult problems by increasing their customer support efficiency. By applying the Be My Eyes Experience to these tough design challenges, we close gaps and fix problems before they turn into bigger issues.
If your company wants to be the eyes of your blind customers or employees, contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.