Uber pledges better rides for customers with disabilities

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Uber announced steps to provide better access to rides for people with disabilities, something critics have been clamoring for.

When Jose Santamaria calls a cab, he gets a SUV with a ramp for his electric wheelchair. For the cab industry, this is nothing new.

"We transport wheelchair accessible people from 1989 'til today. We started it," said John Lazar, the president of Luxor Cab Company.

As ride service Uber announced support for the Special Olympics, they also announced something else.

"UberASSIST is a new product designed to give people, including older Americans and riders with disabilities, the choice of a driver who can provide additional assistance," said Wayne Ting, Uber Bay Area general manager.

The divers have special training, and cars that can carry folding wheelchairs and scooters.

"Making sure that every rider, regardless of age or disability can use Uber," Ting added

But that depends on who you talk to.

Jessica Lehman, the head of Senior and Disability Action, wants all Uber drivers to have that training. Lehman points out these are not cars with ramps. Uber has those, but they cost extra and they can be scarce.

"UberASSIST is not equal access by any stretch of the imagination," Lehman said. "How many do they actually have? And why are not they not sharing that information?"

Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes a wheelchair isn't the issue at all. Transportation is also a concern for people who are blind, especially those who rely on guide dogs.

Erin Lauridsen is sight-impaired and she said she takes Uber fairly often.

"With a guide dog, they are welcome into any Uber across the world," Ting said.

Lauridsen says about 10 percent of her drivers didn't get that memo. "They pretty much just say, I can't take the dog," she said.

Uber's working on training for all of its drivers, including how to take passengers like Special Olympics athletes who have intellectual disabilities, and letting parents or caretakers monitor their ride.

"So that way those caretakers are informed about the location, and that way they know that the athlete is going to be safe be safe and secure," said David Solo of NorCal Special Olympics.

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