An organization which advocates for the rights of people
with disabilities has sued Uber, asking a federal judge to order the popular
ridesharing service to provide equivalent levels of service to those with
non-folding motorized wheelchairs as it does for people without such mobility
On Thursday, Oct. 13, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago
filed suit in Chicago federal court, alleging the transportation services
provided in Chicago by the company formally known as Uber Technologies violates
the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Access Living has asked the court to declare Uber a “public
accommodation” under the ADA, and to order the company to ensure those with
disabilities requiring the use of motorized wheelchairs can always have access
to an Uber driver that can accommodate their needs, using the same response
times, service areas, reservations capability and pricing as is provided to
those without disabilities.
“Uber claims its services are not subject to the ADA, and
its service to people who require wheelchair accessible vehicles ranges from
token to non-existent,” Access Living stated in its lawsuit. “That position
threatens a return to the isolation and segregation that the disability rights movement
has fought to overcome. This action seeks a declaration that the ADA requires
Uber to provide equal access to people with disabilities, and to require that
Uber provide service to those who require wheelchair accessible vehicles.”
According to Access Living’s complaint, the group, along
with its allies and supporters, succeeded in recent years to secure language
inserted into Chicago’s city ordinance governing taxi drivers to require the
city’s cab companies to sharply increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis
operating on the city’s streets in coming years and decades.
However, Access Living said at the same time, the arrival
and surge in the use of Uber and similar ridesharing services has significantly
impacted the taxi industry, causing the number of taxis to decline as Uber and
its similar competitors gain popularity with riders, and eat away at the share
of consumer transportation dollars steered toward traditional taxi services.
In its lawsuit, Access Living noted the number of taxis in
operation in Chicago declined from 6,899 in 2013 to just 6,222 at the end of
2015. At the same time, the number of rides provided by Uber alone surged from
1.7 million in April 2015 to more than 1.93 million in June 2015.
Despite all those millions of riders, however, Access Living
alleged Uber provided “just 14 rides to motorized wheelchair users requiring
wheelchair accessible vehicles” over four years from September 2011 to August
Access Living said it had asked the city of Chicago to
require Uber to provide services to support wheelchair-accessible service under
an ordinance regulating ridesharing services. However, Uber resisted that
requirement, and it was not included in the approved ordinance.
Access Living said it then met with Uber, and requested Uber
provide the service voluntarily, and do so under similar response times and
pricing provided to those without disabilities. Access Living said Uber
Under its business model, Uber does not own the vehicles its
drivers use nor does it mandate when drivers must work. Rides are arranged
using the company’s smartphone app. However, the company does set certain requirements
for vehicles used by its drivers, including certain size and capacity
requirements for certain levels of service and requirements that the vehicle
pass certain inspections.
Uber also sets “minimum requirements for its drivers’ age,
experience, licensing and driving records,” the lawsuit noted.
Yet, according to the lawsuit, Uber at certain times may
offer no vehicles in the city of Chicago for the use of people with
disabilities requiring motorized wheelchairs.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Access Living itself, as
well as two of its employees and a board member, each of whom require motorized
wheelchairs and said they believed Uber’s service was inaccessible to them.
Access Living is represented in the action by attorneys with
the firm of Much Shelist P.C., of Chicago, as well as their own in-house