AUSTIN (KXAN) — Questions about safety and background checks have dominated the conversation for some time now when it comes to ridesharing in Austin. KXAN has learned it’s another concern all together that prompted two lawsuits against rideshare companies Fare and Get Me, two companies that stepped in when Uber and Lyft left.
“An individual who is blind or visually impaired is a prime customer be able to use ridesharing companies,” Disability Rights attorney Lia Davis said. It’s that customer base she says companies like Get Me and Fare are forgetting.
Steve Elliot is an attorney himself and one of five individuals named in the two lawsuits.
“For me, I’ve had my visual impairment for more than 40 years,” Elliot said. He relies on what’s called text-to-speech software on smart phones, where the phone says aloud what Elliot is typing or selecting on the screen. For rideshare apps, it helps him know he’ll be getting to the right spot.
Fasten is an example of an app that now works for the local blind community after responding to attorneys’ concerns. Where Get Me and Fare fall short, Elliot says, is when it comes to actually requesting a ride. In these apps, the text-to-speech technology isn’t able to finish the process and actually request a ride because of shortcomings in how the apps were designed.
Elliot and Davis explained that Apple and Google do have accessibility guidelines for app developers, to help assure the app’s success among the disabled community.
“Really, when we don’t have transportation infrastructure, we don’t have good public transportation, when we’re not considering people with disabilities, it has a significant impact on our independence,” Elliot said of Austin’s current transportation landscape.
In a statement to KXAN, Fare said, “We are aware of the deficiencies our application had in the past. We have been working with a couple of members of the blind community to make sure that our system is easy to use. Our new IOS application released on Sunday, and it addresses most of the issues. Our New Android application will be released in 2 weeks. We always welcome any feedback to help us in shaping our technology to further serve the community.”
Get Me, on the other hand, rejected accusations it’s violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying the complaint is not about transportation services, but about the functionality of its app. Still, he company says its committed to adding accessibility features as it develops a new version of its app, which isn’t expected to be released until sometime next year.
- READ: Get Me lawsuit response
Reading through the city’s code, KXAN found ridesharing companies must turn over accessibility plans to Austin’s transportation director within six months of operating. Within three months of operating, an accessible service request indicator must be available on the app, so customers can request a handicap accessible ride. But this only addresses riders who use a support animal or a wheelchair, for example. It does not mention anything about blind customers’ ability to request a ride through apps, something Elliot feels should become part of city council conversations moving forward.