Blind People Accuse Uber of Discrimination

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Uber drivers refuse service to and harass blind customers and their guide dogs – in one case even forcing a dog into a car trunk before giving a woman a ride, the National Federation of the Blind claims in court.
     On at least 30 occasions, Uber drivers agreed to transport customers, but then refused after learning they were blind and had guide animals, according to the Tuesday lawsuit in Federal Court, which refers to Uber and the UberX taxi service.
     The National Federation of the Blind of California and Michael Hingson, a blind man, sued Uber Technologies. They are the only parties to the complaint.
     Some customers who were denied service were charged with cancellation fees, the federation says.
     “These blind riders are also often placed in the uncomfortable position of explaining to uninformed UberX drivers that service animals are protected by law and that blind people have the right to bring service animals into vehicles providing taxi services,” the complaint states.
     The company insists that it’s not a transportation provider and does not have to follow laws protecting blind people, the plaintiffs say. In light of what Uber offers, the plaintiffs say, that’s a ridiculous argument.
     Many customers have complained, but Uber hasn’t given any indication whether it is investigating or if it has taken steps to fix the situation, the federation says. It claims that Uber drivers have “abandoned blind travelers in extreme weather, all because of guide dogs.”
     The 25-page lawsuit is replete with examples.
     “For example, Leena Dawes is blind and uses a guide dog. An UberX driver forced Ms. Dawes’ guide dog into the closed trunk of the UberX sedan before transporting Ms. Dawes. When Ms. Dawes realized where the driver had placed her dog, she pleaded with the driver to pull over so that she could retrieve her dog from the trunk, but the driver refused her request. Other blind customers with guide dogs have been yelled at by Uber drivers who are hostile toward their guide dogs,” the complaint states.
     In another case, an Uber driver cursed federation member Jamey Gump, because he has a guide dog, then “quickly accelerated the vehicle forward, nearly injuring Mr. Gump’s guide dog and causing an open passenger door to strike Mr. Gump’s friend. The UberX driver then sped away and canceled the ride request,” according to the complaint. Gump called the police.
     The federation claims it wrote to Uber in June, notifying it of the discrimination, and proposed in July to resolve the issue through structured negotiations. Uber rejected the proposal for negotiations, the federation says.
     Uber and other ridesharing companies are facing legal challenges from cab drivers across the country, who claim the Internet-based companies compete unfairly by ducking the regulations by which traditional taxi companies must abide. Cabbies have filed class action in Philadelphia, Houston and elsewhere. The latest complaint was filed Tuesday in Atlanta.
     Uber has been accused of discrimination before. In June, two Houston women sued Uber and Lyft in Federal Court, saying the companies must provide accommodation for people in wheel chairs.
     The plaintiffs want Uber ordered to implement policies to prevent discrimination against the blind, including mandatory training to drivers about legal access requirements.
     They are represented by Michael Nunez, with Disability Rights Advocates, of Berkeley.

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