Disability
Uber has promised to sensitise its drivers but disabled people say such instances are routine.
(Left) Preeti Singh/Facebook

When Preeti Singh boarded an Uber cab on Tuesday, she didn’t know she’d be spending the ride feeling utterly humiliated and insulted. The driver, like the one she had been assigned for an earlier Uber ride, was allegedly not happy about the fact that he would have to keep Preeti’s wheelchair in the car.

In a Facebook post, Preeti recounts her ordeal, claiming that the driver kept complaining about how her wheelchair was going to ruin his car. The alleged complaints left Preeti feeling so mortified that she asked her brother to get a cloth and clean the car.

Calling herself a loyal Uber customer, Preeti wrote, “I'm a very positive person but I did loose it a little. (sic)” She adds that this isn’t a new issue and she had tried to take it up with Uber over multiple emails.

The Delhi-based woman said that many times, there is no place in the boot of the cars as well, because most cars are CNG driven.

“There is no place in the boots, there are no carriers and the drivers don't want to keep it on the seats! Even when they do most of the times it comes as a favour or such way they make me feel about it (sic),” Preeti wrote, adding that the case is the same with UberGO or UberX. 

“I pay for your services, no one’s doing any charity than why is it that I still have to feel this way just because I'm a wheelchair user (sic). Always praying that the driver doesn't create a fuss about it. Of course I'm going to go with my wheelchair, nobody asks anyone to keep their legs behind when travelling in a cab, why me? (sic)” she argued.

Preeti also pointed out that the Uber app does not allow her to indicate that she is wheelchair bound. If the company had this provision, it could ensure that only cars which have a free boot or carrier are sent for such customers.

She also makes a couple of suggestions in the Facebook post, including the necessity for sensitizing and training the drivers. Read the full post here.

More than 14 hours after she put up the social media posts, Uber took cognizance of Preeti’s complaints and got in touch with her.

When TNM contacted Uber, a spokesperson said that the company has “zero tolerance” towards discrimination.

“We have been in contact with this rider to offer our support. We internally reviewed the matter and are retraining the concerned driver partners. Additionally, we are committing to re-train and sensitise our driver partners for special needs of our riders,” the spokesperson said.

For people who live with disability, however, such treatment is something of a routine. 

Chennai-based disability activist TMN Deepak says that he comes across such cases on a regular basis. 

“Just last year, there was a case where a wheelchair-bound woman with stunted growth was threatened by the driver. The driver told her that he would drop her off midway through her trip. Imagine how unsafe it is,” Deepak says.

There are several issues here, he points out.

“Many times, even the police officials are not sensitive if these people try to lodge a complaint about how they have been treated. It is also an assault on the confidence of disabled persons who are trying to be autonomous and independent. You are essentially forcing them to be dependent, which is nothing short of a human rights violation,” he argues.

Earlier this year, medal-winning para-athlete Suvarna Raj was allegedly forced to sleep on the floor of a train when she was allotted an upper berth. Suvarna, who is also a disability rights activist, tried to exchange the berth for a lower one, but the people on the lower berths refused.

While Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu took cognizance of the matter and launched an internal inquiry, Suvarna said that it wasn’t what she wanted. "I don't want any inquiry, I want permanent solution for persons with disabilities,” she had said. 

Incidentally, Uber is being sued in New York for not having enough disabled-friendly rides.