Delhi woman’s plight shows India’s cab services still shun disabled riders

In a post that is now being widely shared, Preeti Singh writes about the plight and humiliation she faced on July 17, when she tried to avail of Uber's services. But it is clear she's not alone when it comes to being discriminated.

Written by Ishita Sengupta | Updated: July 21, 2017 4:50:31 pm
disabled people, problems of disabled people to travel in india, uber, services provided for disabled people, indian express, indian express news Preeti Singh was told by the driver that the wheelchair will make the car dirty. (Source: Preeti Singh/Facebook)

“My disability is not my identity,” 24-year-old Preeti Singh says, with astounding firmness. A resident of Delhi, Singh has been in the news for calling out cab providing service provider Uber for the “humiliating” behaviour of some of its drivers. In a post that is now being widely shared, Singh wrote about the plight and humiliation she faced on July 17 owing to her condition. She availed Uber’s service twice on the mentioned date, and both times the drivers expressed visible reluctance. In her own words, “the drivers weren’t happy about keeping the wheelchair in their cars”.

As harrowing as it might sound, one of them even expressed his ‘fear’ aloud — his car is going to get dirty, he had said. A CA student, Singh eventually asked her brother to clean the car when she reached her destination, as she did not want the driver to say those words again to anybody. Since then the cab hailing company has reached out to her and assured her of necessary actions.

Preeti Singh (Source: Facebook)

“Uber has a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination of any kind. We have been in contact with this rider to offer our support,” a Uber spokersperson told indianexpress.com. They also maintained that the drivers are being retained and retrained to make them more sensitive to the special needs of the riders.

The statement may sound reassuring, but Singh’s humiliation is not a one-off case. Similar incidents have occurred in the past, not only with her but also with other people with disability. In her post, Singh too states the same when she says the recent incident “is not new”.

“I’ve tried complaining/suggesting about this issue in my earlier emails,” she writes. Referring to the complete lack of infrastructure to aid a person with disability, Singh’s post also throws light on the glaring irony that plagues the present situation. “In Delhi CNG cars are a compulsion (mostly) but such is not the case with carriers. 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!” she writes.

Shakthi Vadakkepat, a tech analyst and disability activist, feels the same. “When a cab driver sees a disabled person, they feel they are doing favour by letting them in their cab,” Vadakkepat says. The 44-year-old, who has to travel a fair amount owing to his line of work, maintains that things refuse to look better irrespective of the city he is in. One of his most humiliating experiences, he recounts, was when, a little over a year ago, a driver had stood in front of him, made a few calls and then just refused to go. It was the driver’s first trip for the day and he did not want such an “unlucky start”. Vadakkepat remembers missing his flight and consequently a lot of work. It has been quite some time, but the wounds have refused to heal and the situation does not seem any better. However, there is not one single cab service provider that one can point to and blame. The service provider that Vadakkepat referred to is Bengaluru-based. Similar woes are echoed by Nipun Malhotra, CEO of Nipman Foundation that works in the areas of health, dignity and happiness for the physically disabled. “No public transport has the adequate infrastructure to help a physically disabled person. The conductors are not trained and there are no ramp facility,” the 29-year-old says. This indifferent attitude towards the disabled community led him to fend things for himself. Malhotra customised his car according to his needs, but incurred an expenditure of around five lakhs. It goes without saying that not many can do that, and if one might ask, why should one?

To say that no steps were ever taken to ease the commuting experience of people with disability would be misleading and even partially untrue. In 2015, Uber had introduced a specialised service for the disabled and the elderly called uberASSIST, where driver partners were supposed to be trained to assist the passenger with different accessibility needs while boarding or de-boarding a car. They were also supposed to be trained in folding and storing their wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters for transport. The services were discontinued soon afterwards.

In 2016, Meru Cabs had begun wheelchair accessible cab service to help those who faced mobility challenges. Vadakkepat, however, recounts how he had tried to book one, and had even contacted an official for the same. But much to his surprise and dismay, the service was not available and the officer seemed unaware of its existence. In Bengaluru and Mumbai, there are cab options available for the disabled, but they are expensive and too few in number.

The hurt and humiliation expressed by Singh in her post is not misplaced nor exaggerated. At most, one can deem it as an outburst, perhaps one that has come too late. Most of the cab hailing services in India do not provide an option for an individual to intimate the driver beforehand of their condition. Hence, the size of the car and the temperament of the driver cannot be ascertained till the cab arrives.

In Ola, another cab service provider, one can call and let them know if one wants a bigger car, and in Uber one has to book an UberGo or an UberXL if one desires more leg space— disabled or not. Both Singh and Vadakkepat admit that they sense an unmistakable paranoia in a driver when the latter sees a wheelchair-bound rider. “As if we are a punished lot,” Vadakkepat says.

But to quote Singh, disability is not their only identity, and the wheelchair is not an impediment to their existence. It does not hinder their mobility rather helps them to move. Why would then one behave differently with them because of a wheelchair?
“Nobody asks anyone to keep their legs behind when travelling in a cab, why me?” Singh asks in her post. While the burden of the blame may keep on shifting from the driver’s shoulders to the cab service providers, the solution to the problem remains nowhere in sight.

Read Singh’s full post here.

“Dear Uber
This post has been long overdue!
I’m Preeti Singh, a loyal Uber customer who happens to be a person with disability. So I’m a wheelchair user apparently. Talking about the recent event I used your services twice yesterday(You can get the details from my account, I’ll share the details once I’m contacted), both the drivers weren’t happy about keeping the wheelchair in their cars. During my trip back home, I really felt humiliated and insulted when the driver kept saying ‘my car’s gonna get ruined’. I’m a very positive person but I did loose it a little. As I reached my destination I called my brother to clean his car with a cloth just so he never says that again to anyone. Honestly, this is not a new issue and I’ve tried complaining/suggesting about this issue in my earlier emails.
In Delhi, CNG cars are a compulsion(mostly) but such is not the case with carriers.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! Be it UberGo or UberX(not even considering POOL here), the issue is the same. I pay for your services, no ones doing any charity than why is it that I still have to feel this way just because I’m a wheelchair user. 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?
Uber does provide the best service and I’m not saying that every driver is the same but there should be a system to avoid such issues!
-I cant even blame any cab driver when they’re not trained in this regards.
-In your “accessibility” section there is no way I can mention I’m a wheelchair user.
– You guys discontinued your temporary project UberAssist.
Things you could do-
1. Training their drivers
2. Upgrading your accessibility section so that its not just there merely for the beautification
3. Ensuring boot/carriers in the cabs sent to such clients to enable them to keep their wheelchair
4. Never let their customer feel humiliated for being who they are!
5. Stop saying that my feedback is valuable, when you do nothing about it!
This was my last trip with Uber, I hope no one feels this way ever so I’ll be posting this both-on my personal profile as well as your official page!
#uber #UberComplaints.”

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