A St. Louis woman said she was denied a ride with Uber this week because of her service dog.
Naomi Soule is blind and uses a guide dog, 11-year old Farbee, to help her navigate. The pair are inseparable, but Soule said occasionally, Farbee isn’t welcomed.
“You’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked or told, ‘We don’t allow dogs in here,’” she said.
Soule said earlier this week, it happened again.
She called an Uber driver to pick her up from a doctor’s appointment. She started using the ridesharing service a few weeks ago, and considers herself a big fan.
“I love it,” she said. “I always know when they’re coming. I know who the driver is, they’ve been on time. They're really friendly.”
But when her driver arrived, Soule said he told her Farbee couldn’t ride. She said she corrected him, explaining the law allowed her and Farbee to ride. The American’s with Disabilities Act requires government agencies, businesses and non-profits that provide goods or services to the public to allow service animals.
Soule said the driver wouldn’t budge.
“He said, I don’t take dogs,’ and hung up on me,” she said. “And the next second, I get a message that my ride has been canceled so I had to schedule another ride.”
Uber’s policy, published online, says drivers are required by law to transport service animals. Drivers do have the right to refuse an animal passenger that is simply a pet, and not service animal.
An Uber spokesperson offer the following statement by email Wednesday:
“We were disappointed to learn of this rider’s experience as we are committed to increasing transportation options everywhere for everyone. We expect drivers to comply with our Code of Conduct that explicitly states service animals must be accommodated in compliance with accessibility laws.”
Soule said she still plans to use Uber, but hopes the company will reconsider training drivers about passengers with disabilities. She even offered to help, citing her professional experience working to provide services for people with visual impairment.
“It’s one thing to notify them, it’s another thing to train them and have them ask any questions they want of someone who is knowledgeable,” she said. “So that the fear of having a dog in your vehicle is diminished.”
The National Federation of the Blind and Uber just settled a lawsuit about this very issue.
As part of that lawsuit, Uber agreed to take steps to clarify to Uber drivers that they are obligated to transport any passenger with a service animal.
Passengers like Soule can use the Uber app through a voice-over service on their smart phones. The company’s website explains how the app is working to expand access to people with disabilities, including visually impaired and hearing impaired.