GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When an Uber driver refused to give Chelsea Perry a ride, the 27-year-old who has used a wheelchair most of her life saw it as an opening.
“This just seemed like an opportunity to have a larger conversation,” said Perry, who wanted to use the interaction to raise awareness and prompt positive change.
For a couple years now, Perry has relied on Uber to get to work, and she says the drivers around Grand Rapids are usually helpful, breaking down her chair if necessary to make it fit in their vehicles.
But that wasn’t the case Monday when a driver arrived at her Kentwood apartment in a standard-size sedan.
“He said something along the lines of, ‘I’ve had a rider who uses a wheelchair before, and her chair did not fit in my vehicle. I’m sorry,’” recalled Perry. “I tried to interject, to say, ‘your car is accessible for me. I can make this work.’ But he didn’t let me get a word in edgewise… He kind of just shut his door and drove off.”
Perry said if a vehicle is truly too small to accommodate her chair, she would have no problem calling for another ride. But she said that wasn’t the case Monday.
Riders are not required to tell a driver beforehand that they use a wheelchair, and Perry did not do so Monday.
“The law does not require me to say something about it prior,” explained Perry. “That’s opening it up to having more instances like the one I had Monday where drivers are given the chance, the choice to not follow the law and not service me.”
Uber responded to 24 Hour News 8’s inquiry with an emailed statement, and a list of steps it’s taken to help ensure its drivers do not discriminate.
“Uber’s Community Guidelines prohibit any type of discrimination in serving riders with disabilities,” wrote Uber spokesperson Andrew Hasbun. “We have been in contact with the rider and have launched an investigation.”
The ride-sharing service also refunded the cancellation fee it had charged Perry for the ride that didn’t happen.
Uber is facing lawsuits in several states that allege the California-based company is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“(Uber) still has more work to do,” said Kimberly Kennedy, a West Michigan veteran who uses a wheelchair and depended on Uber herself for two and a half years. “I love teachable moments … Everybody else is fighting for their rights. Why shouldn’t we fight for our rights as well?”
Kennedy recalled several instances in which Uber drivers drove by, spotted her in her wheelchair, and kept driving.
“I instantly hit, ‘Requesting a credit (on the Uber app), just got dissed by a driver again,’” Kennedy recalled. “After the fourth or fifth time Uber was getting a little upset about having to reimburse me.”
Ultimately, a group of Uber drivers who regularly serviced Kennedy’s neighborhood in southeast Grand Rapids got together and figured out a system to make sure she got rides when she needed them.
Uber pointed out to 24 Hour News 8 that it has a dedicated team that investigates all reports of discrimination and will take appropriate action.
Additionally, when entering a technology services agreement with Uber, drivers agree to operate in compliance with all applicable accessibility laws.
The company also said as part of its sign-up process, drivers receive information and resources on transporting riders with disabilities.
Uber said it could not comment further on the details of what happened in Perry’s case because its internal team was just starting to investigate.