So far Eric Lipp’s Chicago-based nonprofit Open Doors Organization has trained Uber drivers on how to serve riders with disabilities in 10 cities nationwide, and via an internal training video, countless drivers in other cities as well. ODO is tailor-made to partner with Uber as it has extensive experience training transportation companies on how to serve people with disabilities — including Amtrak— and also is the centralized wheelchair accessible taxi dispatch in Chicago, coordinating a fleet of 160 wheelchair accessible vehicles.
How did this match come about? Lipp reached out to Uber and they were eager for the help. “When I read about Uber, the idea hit me — why don’t all of us who have accessible vehicles start serving each other? Like, let’s say Mrs. Smith paid $70,000 for her van, and Mr. Jones is waiting outside a mall. She would probably pick him up for free, but she doesn’t have to, because he’s willing to pay. So that was my initial goal — to use their software to help people pay for their vehicles so people can get out more often,” says Lipp, an incomplete T4 para. “But while getting that built up, I didn’t think they should be doing nothing — and they were doing nothing — and they agreed. There was no argument or long discussion.”
Soon, Lipp was helping to develop UberASSIST — the program that trains drivers about disability — and also UberACCESS, which pilots programs that partner with taxi or paratransit companies that have WAVs. His trainings are cross-disability and he, as well as Uber, are proud of the progress made in ensuring the app works with screen reading programs for people who are blind or have visual impairments, and signaling software for drivers who are deaf. For assisting wheelchair users, the trainings focus on disability etiquette as well as how to properly remove the wheels, fold and stow manual wheelchairs.
“With Uber they’re a bunch of young kids who really care about this stuff,” says Lipp. “We need to help them, and there’s a willingness among them, and a willingness among the drivers, too. We’re getting there.”