Une vie de chien, partie III: Uber-friggin-tastic

For the record, that subtitle would be in the “sarcastic” typographical emphasis, if ever there were one.  You know, the one right next the bold, underlineitalics, and strikethrough.  If someone could get on that, I’d appreciate it.

The sarcasm is not directed at my lovely Max; no, it is directed at the ride-share service and the horrible experiences I had with them in the fair city of Providence, RI, back in July.

Let me get the liberal stuff out of the way first: yes, I know about the implications of using Uber when it comes to its treatment of its drivers (this is a great undercover report) and taxi union complaints.  BUT, – and here comes the disability stuff – these are the kinds of decisions people with disabilities have to make when access isn’t a dream.  The Providence bus system isn’t bad, and the busses are fine in terms of me being able to get on and off, but for me, walking more than two blocks to get somewhere can take a while and takes a toll on my horrid ankle, especially in the rain.  I was going to be going back and forth a couple times a day over 3 or 4 days, so Uber was more economical than a taxi.  I thought Uber was a necessary evil

I’ve taken Uber a few times but try not to make a habit of it, for the reasons stated above.  I’ve never had a problem in Indianapolis, and the time or two I’ve taken it in Boston was fine as well.  Alas, Providence was a different story.  Maybe it’s the drivers, maybe it’s the city, maybe it’s the fact that I was riding alone for the first time, but it was less than desirable either way you slice it.

My first ride was in the evening, and it had rained.  I make my request, and it says my ride will be there in 5 minutes. Yay!  Usually, my worry is that the car will be a big one and I won’t be able to get in, but it says it is a Prius.  Ok, I can do that.  Next, I get a notification that my driver is “deaf or hard of hearing and uses ASL to communicate.”  I think, “That’s interesting.  I’m glad to know that Uber uses drivers with disabilities.”  (I’m not going to get into the whole deafness-as-disability discussion here, so don’t get your panties in a wad, as my mom would say).  The guy arrives and looks at Max and is visibly unhappy, so I point at Max’s “Service Dog: Access Required by ADA Law” patch.  The dude doesn’t get out of the car to help, so I try to get Max on the floor between the front and back seats, but it’s a no-go.  Not enough room; it’s a Prius, after all, and not the larger Prius V either.  The guy’s getting upset that Max is getting the seat wet, but I try to get him to understand that the seat needs to be moved forward, but he waves my attempts at communication aside and grumpily drives us to my destination.  I was put off by the experience but thought that it was an exception and chalked it up to the fact that sometimes it can be difficult when the disparate needs of two disabilities collide.

So, I looked up service dog stuff on the Uber web site so I could be better armed in the morning. This is what I found:

Please note: all drivers are required by law to transport registered service animals. If you experience issues using Uber with your service animal, please reach out to us by reporting an issue with your trip. help.uber.com

I decided that things might go more smoothly if I let the driver know ahead of time.  Yeah, that’s it.

“Ride” #2.  I request my ride.  He’ll be there in 10 minutes.  It’s an SUV.  Ok.  I’ve got my foldable stool.  I have time to let Max sniff around for a bit.  It’s all good.  I press the “contact driver” option and type a message: “FYI – I am traveling with a service dog.  He can go in the back.”  Notification: “Oops. Your driver had to unexpectedly cancel your ride.”  What?  Coincidence?  I think not.  Good news is that the new driver is just up the street.  I don’t chance it.  I do NOT contact the driver.  He’ll just have to take me.

Ride #3. The new driver gets there, and he’s a nice, older man.  He compliments Max’s manners and helps me get him into the car in a good position.  I apologize for his wet paws, and he says, “no problem.  People get the floor wet, too.” Ok.  Maybe it’ll be fine from here on out.

Ride #4. I’m no fool; I’m not contacting the drivers any more.  They have to take me: it’s the law, dammit.  The guy pulls up and is not happy: “We’re not supposed to take dogs.” I said, “It’s a service animal; you have to.”  He’s foreign, so I explain a bit, and he acquiesces.

Ride #5.  Similar to #4, except this time, I don’t explain. I just say, “he’s a service dog; it’s against the law to refuse.” And I just get in.

“Ride” #6.  The end of my seminar.  I’m sick of this Uber crap. I’m not in the mood to argue.  I’m tired; it’s hot.  Maybe I’ll try to walk to the bus stop.  I get about a block and a half: “nope,” says my ankle, “not going any further.” So, I stop at a little cafe, grab a drink and get on the Uber app.  It’s rush hour.  He’ll be there in about 15 minutes.  So, I sit on the steps outside with Max and follow the car on the map.  Oh, here it comes.  I see the car make and model coming down the street… and pass us.  Hmmm.  Maybe he didn’t see us. That planter is sort of hiding us.  I see on the map that he is turning around the block to come back.  Ok.  Good.  It was a mistake. I “contact driver” and type: “we’re just outside, on the steps.”  The car comes back around… and passes us.   Notification: “Oops. Your driver had to unexpectedly cancel your ride.”  WTF!?!?!

Ride #7.  The new driver arrives.  He’s super nice, and when I try to get Max on the floor, he says, “he can sit on the seat.  It’s ok.” He hears me using some French with Max, and he comments that he’s Haitian, and we have a nice, enjoyable ride.

I call my friend C, with whom I was staying, to tell her I’m on the way.  And, I tell her I’m irritated.  A true friend, she’s got some bubbly in the fridge!

I go into my room and put my stuff down, and I just need a little cry.  Like I said, I was tired, hot, and achy.  I can get weepy when I’m mad about things involving my disability.  It’s already difficult enough to make it through the day most of the time, but when you’re already grumpy and one more person stares, a kid laughs, or someone won’t give you a damned ride, you get a little angsty.  I’m getting my cry on when C unwittingly comes in, and I turn around all pathetic and whimpery, and then she’s nice to me, and I go into the ugly cry.  She gives me a hug, and says, “you know, it’s about the dog, it’s not you.  Not because you’re a dwarf.”  Think about it and say, “I guess. Yeah.  Ok. Let’s have that bubbly.”

We had a lovely dinner with wine and cocktails.  But it ain’t over, Uber.  I’m gonna write a blog post about you, jerks.

I did some research, and this isn’t the first time people with disabilities have had trouble with Uber.   They are currently being sued for refusing rides to the blind… oh, and one driver put a guide dog in the trunk.  The National Federation of the Blind filed a civil suit against Uber for such treatment, and this is how Uber responded:

Uber had requested the case to be dismissed, on the basis that its contracts require customers to take disputes to arbitration and argue their complaints as individuals, not in class-action suits, according to SF Gate. The ride-hailing company also argued that it is not a “public accommodation” and therefore not subject to ADA requirements.  http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/04/a-guide-dog-discrimination-lawsuit-against-uber-will-move-forward/391293/

Not cool, Uber.  Not cool.  What about that thing I found on your help page about requiring drivers to transport service dogs?  Hmmm?

In response to such problems, in 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission established that ride-share companies (e.g. UberX, Lyft, and SideCar) are under their authority and thus are subject to accessibility compliance.

And, it’s not just about dogs.  It’s also about people with wheelchairs, and there are groups suing both Lyft and Uber over that as well.

Beyond what I found on the Interwebz, I reached out to a disability studies listserve in which I participate, asking for some stories.  One respondent, who uses a guide dog, relayed multiple instances where he was denied a ride and even indicated that he tried Lyft – to no avail –  simply because Uber had been so horrible.

All of these instances have left me standing on a curb somewhere trying to find a ride home or just to run weekly errands. I have reported all instances that I have experienced to both Uber and Lyft. Now every time I request an Uber, I am always a bit fearful that I will get left on the sidewalk again.  ~H

Another person commented that he had used Uber to travel with his guide dog to a skilled nursing facility to spend time with his loved one and had not had problems.  He did note that this was his first time using Uber and that the ride had been organized by the facility.  I’m not sure how businesses set up rides, but maybe they can actually talk to a person?  Or, maybe as the respondent said, “Maybe [X (city in the West)] is more dog-friendly than other cities, but all the drivers were informed that I was blind and travel with a guide dog and uniformly the drivers have been terrific, accepting my dog and giving us a friendly ride.”

Perhaps there needs to be a button that says, “I am traveling with a service animal” or “I have ADA requirements.”  Couldn’t the driver then receive a notification, much like the one I received about my deaf driver, that the client requires accommodation?  A notification that reminds the driver that it is illegal – and may be enforced with dismissal – to refuse service?  It would seem awfully suspicious if your driver canceled that ride!

Before I finish this post, I want to go back to my conversation with C about the the ride refusals being about Max and not about my dwarfism.  At the time, I sort of half-heartedly agreed (because I was thinking about the bubbly) and said something about if not feeling like it, or some other blah blah.  Well, I’ve been mulling it over, thinking about why it bothered me so much, if it really was just about a dog.  And, I think she’s right: in the driver’s mind, it is about the dog.  They aren’t refusing a ride to a dwarf; they just don’t want a dog to mess up their car.  But, then I thought about the times people in wheelchairs have been refused.  Are the drivers refusing the wheelchair and not thinking about the person?  That sounds ridiculous.  But, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s probably the case.

This gets us to larger issues about living with a disability.  Yes, a wheelchair might be inconvenient to you, the able-bodied.  Yes, you might have to get out of the car to help fold up a walker and put it in the trunk.  Yes, my service dog’s hair might get on the seat.  To what extent are people with disabilities separable from the mobility aids we use?  If my aid is an inconvenience, then that sends the message that I am an inconvenience.  And that’s what hurts.  To the average person, the thing and the person aren’t the same; however, to a person with a disability, the thing (the wheelchair, the walker, the cane, the prosthesis, and yes, the dog) make our lives infinitely better.  They are, to some extent, an extension of our selves.  If you reject the thing that makes my life livable, you are rejecting me.  It is personal; it’s about my person.  It is another message that the normative body is the correct body, that the world does not have to move and change for the Other body, that public space is not for us.  To the disabled body, this is another way of signaling the desire to put us back in our place: hidden away.

This is the thinking against which the disability justice movement fights: the notion that deviation from the norm should be met with fear/disgust/anger/etc. by the “normal” and with shame/loneliness/self-loathing/etc. by the “crippled.”  You see, to be a disability activist is to refuse to be hidden and to risk being treated with those same fears, disgust, and anger.  (I could go on and on about how this is even further exacerbated by the historical burden of dwarfism and the “freakish,” but I’ll save that for another post).

To engage the public with “crip pride” is to risk being told by the world that you are an inconvenience, that if you want to be out and about, you shouldn’t threaten normative ideas about the body, beauty, space, and independence.  What normative society really seems to want out of the disabled is the “super crip.”  You know what I’m talking about.  That “extraordinary” cripple who is “just like you” “in spite of” X, Y, Z.  Doesn’t that make you feel better to know that I can be just like you?  That you can forget about my disability, even if I can’t?  The onus is on us to make you feel better about yourself, and about us.  It’s friggin’ exhausting.

One more thing before I go… This has got me thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and what it says about White Privilege and how blind even the very intelligent and ultra-progressive can be to it.  This tendency of the majority is to put the burden onto the minority to explain themselves and to make that majority feel better about themselves, i.e. their privilege is real.  Why is everyone so upset about the #BLM interruption of the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle?  Because we want to feel good about being liberal, free-thinkers, and being confronted by a group of people who demand recognition – a seat at the table – reminds us of our privilege.  It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves; on the contrary, we feel guilty, and we don’t like it.

So, next time you are confronted with whatever social justice issue that makes you uncomfortable, think about it.  What really makes you afraid?  That your privilege might be taken away, or that you have so much of it?

Members of minorities who wish to preserve their self-definition need to define themselves in opposition to the majority. The more accepting the majority is of them, the more rigorously they need to do so, because their separate identity collapses if they countenance its integration into the majority world. Multiculturalism rejects the 1950s vision of a world in which everyone is subsumed by uniform Americanness, and chooses one in which we all inhabit our own treasured particularities. In his classic work Stigma, Erving Goffman argues that identity is formed when people assert pride in the thing that made them marginal, enabling them to achieve personal authenticity and political credibility. The social historian Susan Burch calls this “the irony of acculturation”: society’s attempts to assimilate a group often cause that group to become more pronounced in its singularity.

Solomon, Andrew (2012-11-13). Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (Kindle Locations 610-616). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

3 thoughts on “Une vie de chien, partie III: Uber-friggin-tastic

  1. I do apologize for the comment, for you’re right, it doesn’t make anything better. I’ll think again about prostheses (and I read the book… so I have no excuses!)
    Where does the “privilege test” come from? Strikes me as fairly location-specific in several respects, but perhaps European rather than American?


  2. No apologies! I think you were trying to point out the POV of the driver, which though erroneous, really WAS about the dog. I think that’s why I was particularly disappointed in the response of the first driver using ASL. I really thought we might have some sort of shared experience…

    I found the “privilege test” via the almighty Google search using the terms “what’s your privilege.” It lead me to many places, but I chose this one: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/check-your-privilege. There are various versions of the test, but this was the quickest and the most visual. They are all skewed in some fashion or other, so I used this one as a way to get people thinking about privilege, if they haven’t already. And, I know plenty haven’t… though, I know you’re not one of them. 🙂


  3. Amy,
    Thank you so much for writing this, but damn! That you had to write it in the first place… One more reason not to take an Uber ever. Thank you, too, for the reminder to check my privilege. It was a total pleasure to meet you (and watch Max sleep) during the CDI meeting today, and I hope we can work together to raise awareness about some of the everyday stuff (like riding in a gd uber) that so many people just take for granted.
    – Nicky


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