The suit, filed by Access Living and three individuals with disabilities who use motorized wheelchairs, alleges that the ADA requires Uber to provide wheelchair accessible service as part of its transportation business.
In court, Uber claims it is not responsible for providing accessible transportation because it is a software developer, responsible only for the design of its smart phone app, and because it does not own any vehicles used to transport passengers. Uber contends that, at most, the ADA only regulates the purchase of certain types of vehicles, so it cannot be violated by a transportation company that does not own vehicles.
Judge Shah disagreed, holding that the ADA is not a “check list” of requirements, but a law that “tries to provide people with equal access when its achievement is reasonable.” He also held that Uber’s business activities, ranging from arranging rides, to controlling cost, vehicles used, driver qualifications, and the general ride experience, can, if proven, qualify the company as a transportation provider bound by the ADA, not just a software developer.
“Inaccessible transportation is an inequity that the ADA was established to correct, and we are pleased that this decision recognized that Uber is accountable to that,” said Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living. “Accessible transportation is an essential building block to peoples’ ability to live independently.”
The emergence of the rideshare industry, while increasing mobility options for many people, has reduced the travel options available to others, particularly people who use wheelchairs. The equal access requirements of the ADA must continue even in the fast-paced world of tech developers such as Uber. The court’s decision affirms that new business models cannot avoid their obligation to be accessible just because they are new or technology based. Plaintiffs are represented by Steven Blonder, Jonathan Loew and Daniel Hantman of the law firm of Much Shelist, P.C. in Chicago, and Charles Petrof of Access Living.