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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Using Ride Share Apps with Vision Loss: Tips from a Daily Traveler

September 29, 2023 | Leave a Comment

by Kathy Austin

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Interior of a ride share car from the back seat. Shows a smart phone in a holder showing directions,


As a guide dog handler, I try my best not to use ride sharing services to get a ride. The anxiety of trying to find the vehicle, then wondering if the driver will refuse to take me because of my dog, just isn’t worth the stress. Then, there’s the problem of a language barrier if the driver doesn’t speak English well. I’ve been dropped off at a wrong address, in the middle of a construction zone. The thought of that experience haunts me every time I have to use a ride sharing app.

I am not alone. Uber has been reaching out to people with disabilities, and especially those with vision loss who use service animals. At the 2022 National Federation of the Blind’s annual convention, Uber was pelted with discrimination complaints about guide dog access and drivers unwillingness to take a passenger who uses a guide dog. In response to the overwhelming number of complaints, Uber created a project team to look at these discrimination issues. At the American Council of the Blind’s 2023 convention, ACB hosted a town hall where Uber reported on their progress. This new project team has had eight to nine months to delve into these issues, but it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made so far.

While we wait on Uber to get some serious changes implemented about drivers and ride acceptance, we have some tips from Taurus Smith, Second Sense’s certified vision rehabilitation therapist. Taurus is a guide dog handler and has two young children he ferries to school and extracurricular activities using Uber. Needless to say, between his children and visiting clients in their homes, Taurus uses Uber on a daily basis. He has found some strategies for getting where he needs to go safely and with less hassle. Even if you are not using a guide dog to travel, Taurus’ tips can be helpful for anyone using a ride sharing service.


Hailing Your Ride

As soon as the driver accepts your trip, text message the driver letting them know you are traveling with a guide dog. Taurus says, “The driver will usually cancel immediately if he is going to refuse to take you.” This way, you can request a new ride right away. You will save a considerable amount of time waiting only to be refused access when the driver arrives.

In the event the driver cancels your trip, make sure to report this refusal/cancellation with Uber’s Safety and Incident reporting system through the app. Service animal refusal is at the bottom of the list of issues. Uber has a record of driver’s cancellations. You can take a screenshot of the trip for back up documentation. Taurus also recommends phoning the Incident hotline when a ride refusal takes place. “Talking with an Uber representative instead of just entering the complaint on the app gives you an opportunity to explain your frustration, seriousness of the problem and how it inconvenienced you. You are putting a face, or voice, to the complaint and the complaint has less chance of being overlooked,” says Taurus.

Think twice before posting on your Uber profile that you are a guide dog handler. You might be refused a ride based on your profile even when you are not actually traveling with your dog.

If you take Uber trips to and from the same locations on a fairly regular basis, you may find you get the same drivers. When you are refused a ride, you can request not to have that driver again.


Communicating with Your Driver

It’s probably difficult to determine the make, model and license plate number of your driver’s vehicle. You can call or message your driver (the app will tell you what method your driver prefers) and provide the following:

  • Description of what you are wearing
  • Exactly where you are standing
  • Request for the driver to blow horn with two short honks and one long

When your driver arrives, ask them for their name or license plate number and compare it to the information on your ride request.

Communication and language barriers can also cause anxiety and frustration during your trip. The driver’s profile lists the driver’s preferred language. You can enter their preferred language into the translation feature in the app. Taurus also recommends using Google Translate as an alternative to the translation feature in the app.


Finding the Correct Destination

Sometimes there is confusion about the exact location of your destination. Taurus suggests the following steps once the driver says you are at the destination:

  • First, “Don’t get out of the car.” Ask the driver what he sees. Try not to give clues as to what you are looking for. This forces the driver to give you the information you need to make sure you are where you want to be.
  • Next, you can contact the Safety and Incident reporting line. They will use Google Earth to determine exactly where you are. They then can help with directions for your driver to get you to the correct destination.
  • Even if you determine you’re at the wrong location after you get out of the car, call the Incident Hotline. They know where you are through the app and using Google Earth. They can give you information about your location and possibly provide directions.
  • Share your ride information with a trusted friend or family member. They can track your trip and give you information about where you are. This provides an extra level of security and help if you are not at your destination.


Reporting Ride Refusals and Other Issues

Most importantly, whether you are riding with a guide dog or white cane and are denied a ride, make sure to report the incident to Uber. Also report it through the National Federation of the Blind’s Ride Share Discrimination Survey. This is just a quick online form you can quickly fill out. Letting Uber and other ride share services know about the numerous incidents of ride refusals, can help Uber educate their drivers on the laws of allowing people with disabilities the right to use their transportation service.

To learn what Uber is doing to prevent discrimination, check out the American Council of the Blind’s town hall recording.

And, don’t miss our upcoming November discussion with Taurus Smith as he shares more travel tips to help you get around safely and independently.  Watch our Making Sense newsletter for more details.

Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense

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