Uber is being sued by three New Orleans residents who use wheelchairs and say the ride-share company doesn’t offer a way for them to load their electric wheelchairs into cars. That’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to their civil lawsuit filed Thursday (Oct. 26) in federal court.
Per the suit, residents Stephan Namisnak, Francis Falls and Mitchell Miraglia argue that Uber provides an option for riders to hail a wheelchair-accessible vehicle with trained assistance drivers in other cities, but not in New Orleans. That option, called “UberWAV,” is currently offered in several cities including New York City, Chicago and Houston, according to Uber’s website.
In those cities, Uber says most drivers use wheelchair-accessible vehicles “through our partnerships with third-party companies.”
Uber does offer an option called “UberASSIST” in New Orleans that connects trained drivers with riders who need help packing in wheelchairs, walkers and scooters that fold. That’s not good enough, the suit filed Thursday asserts, since UberASSIST rides don’t come with access ramps and can’t pack in wheelchairs unable to fold up.
What’s more, according to the suit, is Uber ought to already be providing that service, given the company offers it in several cities outside New Orleans. The suit also points out a number of special options on Uber’s app – including promotions like King Cake deliveries and transport to a “secret show” to be put on by a DJ group Thursday night – demonstrate the company has the resources to bring UberWAV to New Orleans.
It all boils down to a violation of federal civil rights rules and well as state anti-discrimination law in California where Uber is based, according to the three New Orleans plaintiffs’ attorney, Andrew Bizer.
“They’re a smart, forward-thinking company on a lot of fronts,” Bizer said over the phone Thursday. “But when it comes with doing some real work toward complying with federal civil rights, they’re severely lacking.”
In an emailed statement, Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George skirted answering questions as to why the company doesn’t offer UberWAV in New Orleans.
“We take this issue seriously, and are continuously exploring ways to facilitate mobility and freedom via the Uber app for all riders, including riders who use motorized wheelchairs.”
Bizer and his New Orleans-based firm, Bizer & DeReus, have already seen success in transportation-related ADA litigation in New Orleans. In February, they secured a settlement requiring the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority to shore up ADA access at all the city’s bus stops, following nearly a year of litigation brought by the discovery that about 94 percent of the city’s more than 2,000 bus stops are not ADA-compliant.
Falls and Miraglia were also plaintiffs in that case.
Likewise, Bizer & DeReus filed a nearly identical ADA suit against Uber in May, representing two residents from Jackson, Mississippi who use wheelchairs. Uber has denied claims of ADA violations in court filings since May, but admitted the company does not offer either UberWAV or UberASSIST in Jackson. A federal judge appointed a mediator for that case on Thursday.
Additionally, Bizer and DeReus filed suit Wednesday against Delgado Community College, claiming the college has not provided adequate ADA-compliant services for its deaf students including one who claims to have lost out on financial aid because an interpreter was never made available to help walk him through the process. A Delgado spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.