Access Living is a Chicago-based, nationally recognized, not-for-profit advocacy organization for people with disabilities. Garcia and Patrick are employees of Access Living. Cooper is a member of Access Living’s Young Professionals’ Council.
The suit alleges that Uber operates a service that is unusable by people who use motorized wheelchairs and other mobility devices, in violation of the ADA’s national mandate to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities, including discrimination in travel and transportation services.
The complaint seeks a declaration that the ADA require Uber to provide equivalent service to people with disabilities, and to enjoin Uber to provide service to all, including those who need to ride in wheelchair-accessible vehicles. According to data that was provided to members of the Chicago Accessible Taxi Advisory Committee and cited during a recent City Council ordinance hearing, Uber provided a total of 1,935,253 rides in Chicago in June 2015 alone. Yet, from September 2011—when it started operating in Chicago—to August 2015, Uber provided just 14 rides to motorized wheelchair users who require wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
“Transportation access has always been a central issue of civil rights for people with disabilities,” said Steven P. Blonder, Principal in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution practice group at Much Shelist and co-lead counsel on the complaint against Uber. “Transportation is key to the independence of people with disabilities, providing a link to education, employment and social activities. As a growing player in our transportation system, Uber is responsible for delivering its part of that link.”
For people who use motorized wheelchairs or manual wheelchairs and cannot transfer their chairs into a car, Uber offers a service called UberWAV . According to the plaintiffs, this service has so few vehicles that it often shows no rides available anywhere in the Chicago area.
“Uber and Lyft provide over three million rides every month in Chicago because they are convenient, timely and cost-effective,” said Justin Cooper, who lives in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. “My wheelchair cannot transfer into a regular Uber vehicle, and even if I were lucky enough to find a wheelchair-accessible vehicle operating, I would have to wait for that vehicle to cross the city to reach me. No one would use Uber if the entire service worked this way.”
According to Access Living representatives, for more than two years, despite repeated assurances from Uber representatives, Uber has failed to provide wheelchair-accessible services to motorized wheelchair users that are equivalent to the services provided to UberX passengers. In 2016, Uber campaigned aggressively against an amendment to Chicago’s rideshare ordinance that would have required Uber to provide equivalent services. The ordinance that eventually passed includes no mention of equivalent services for passengers who require wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
After the rideshare amendment failed to pass, Access Living met with Uber on August 3, 2016, to discuss accessibility. At the meeting, Uber indicated that it had no intention of providing equivalent response times to people who require wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
“Access Living had no choice but to take the significant action of litigation. People with disabilities have fought for generations to gain rights to equal services, ranging from mainline transit to taxis,” said Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living. “This suit continues the struggle to enable individuals with disabilities to participate as full members of society. It is also a fight to avoid losing ground, as Uber pushes out existing accessible transportation services, further limiting options for people with disabilities.”
Access Living filed the complaint on behalf of itself and members of the disability community who are eager to see Uber provide accessible transportation that is equivalent to the service non-disabled riders receive:
“Every week, I go to work, I attend meetings, and I go to events. Many of my colleagues and my peers can depend on Uber to get from place to place quickly and at an affordable price. Yet I cannot because Uber does not provide reliable service to people who request wheelchair-accessible vehicles.”
--Michelle Garcia, plaintiff and Access Living employee
“The ability to travel together is important for all relationships, whether social or business. My husband requires a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, and I will not allow a company’s business model to force us to travel in separate vehicles. Going to dinner with my husband should be the same for me as it is for everyone else.”
--Rahnee Patrick, plaintiff and Access Living employee
“For Cooper, Garcia, Patrick and others, the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees full participation in all aspects of society and the end of historical isolation and segregation of people with disabilities,” Bristo said. “This lawsuit seeks to enforce that guarantee.”
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About Access Living:
Established in 1980, Access Living is a non-profit, Chicago-based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer-based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is a leading force in the community. Committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers, Access Living is a nationally recognized change agent at the forefront of the disability rights movement.
About Much Shelist:
Much Shelist is a Chicago-based full-service business law firm with offices in Chicago and Irvine, CA. Founded in 1970, Much Shelist has nearly 100 attorneys. The firm offers services in a wide range of practice areas, including corporate law; mergers and acquisitions; private equity; venture capital and emerging growth companies; commercial finance; taxation and business planning; labor and employment; commercial real estate and construction; business litigation and dispute resolution; insurance coverage and risk management; intellectual property and technology; health care law; and wealth transfer and succession planning. For more information, visit www.muchshelist.com or follow the firm on Twitter at @MuchShelistLaw.
For Access Living:
Charles Petrof, Access Living
For Much Shelist:
Taylor Trovillion, Finn Partners