Amtrak, Uber and other transportation services are not held accountable for discrimination.
One of the many challenges to being disabled is transportation. In the last week alone, two prominent national stories displayed Uber drivers reportedly denying a wheelchair user with a service dog and Amtrak quoting another two wheelchair users with a $25,000 ticket. And transportation is not just a disability issue — it’s a class issue as well.
In the case of Uber, Zipporah Arielle told her Twitter followers under the username @coffeespoonie that four different Uber drivers denied her a ride in one week. She claims the drivers rarely face repercussions. One of the driver’s excuses was that he had leather seats.
Beyond the troubling discrimination by the drivers, Twitter users respondeded with little sympathy. Twitter user @DisgorgeYugo wrote, “[to be honest] if you’re disabled you need to find some other way of getting around. [R]ideshares are normal people’s [sic] cars. [T]hey aren’t equipped to fit some legless wonder and their wheel throne in the back seat. [I]t’s called a city bus or a subway.”
Other Twitter users doxxed her, and told her it’s not her right for transportation.
In the case of Amtrak, more wheelchair users attempted to buy tickets than there were accessible spots for on the train cars for a certain time slot. The two wheelchair users that tried to purchase tickets were charged $25,000 to move seats to make more accessible spots. Normal tickets for this ride cost only $16. With that amount of money, they could have bought over 1,500 of the non-accessible seats.
Not only is this treatment illegal, it’s prominent, with few possible solutions. Public transportation is often not better than these examples. Some wheelchair users claim buses choose not to stop for them, and many old subway systems do not have access to some of their stops, such as New York City. Most of even the University of Tulsa’s buses do not have a wheelchair lift available.
Personal transportation is an option — but only if that person is prepared to pay a significant fee. Manual wheelchairs can often fold up, but for people with motorized wheelchairs or scooters, like myself, at least an extra-large SUV or a minivan is required. Even used, these vehicles start sometimes double the average sedan or crossover. For example, the price of a sedan can start at around $8,000 for a model 2010 or newer with less than 40,000 miles, and a minivan starts at around $15,000.
On top of this, people who do not have the strength to put their (oftentimes heavy) chair into the car or ability to get out of their chair will have to have the vehicle retrofitted to allow them to roll their chair into where the driver’s seat would be or put in a lift into the side or trunk. At a bare minimum, this costs a few thousand dollars.
Disabled people are disproportionately impoverished, with 20.9 percent of disabled people living in poverty while only 13.1 percent of people without disabilities, according to the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.
Where does this leave disabled people? Often at home or hitching a ride with a friend or family member, whenever possible. Basic activities like buying groceries or going to the doctor’s office can become nightmares, relying on loved ones or gambling with public transportation and ride shares.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which rules on accessibility issues, isn’t enough. Until people’s opinions on disability change, no one will hold major corporations like Uber, Amtrak and even public transportation responsible.
In the case of Amtrak, they temporarily went back on their new policy, but what will happen the next time one too many disabled people try to get on board? When one in five people are disabled and people are having longer and longer lives, will America evolve with us, or continue against us?