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The End of Transportation Accessibility?

By DNW Contributors / 2022-07-14
Posted in

It was happening even before the pandemic struck. I couldn’t reliably get a wheelchair cab. It was hard to find an accessible restroom (one that fits my wheelchair and the door will still close). Public transit wasn’t up to snuff. My wheelchair was broken during airplane travel. Accessibility—full and real accessibility—for people with disabilities was either declining or not improving as promised.

Indeed, accessibility seems to have worsened in many real ways: with inaccessible sidewalks, pool lifts missing batteries, broken elevators on public transit. Plus, all the problems that previously existed. I keep being told to be patient, to be understanding—that everyone is having a tough time. It is true that we are all experiencing challenges, but people with disabilities have to live with more restrictions and exclusions than others. Then we’re often told we have to continue to wait for the accessibility and inclusion promised by law (and also by just good common sense and ethics).

Kelly Mack is a communications professional, specializing in health issues. In her spare time, she writes articles about living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and moderates for She has lived with RA since age two, resulting in significant physical disabilities and use of a motorized wheelchair. Kelly earned a MA in Communications from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in Psychology from Bryn Mawr College. You can find Kelly on Twitter @MsKellyM.

If cabs stopped picking up nondisabled people. If there were no more sidewalks. If air travel regularly resulted in broken legs for passengers (the equivalent of broken wheelchairs). There would not be a call for patience. There would be an uproar around the world about fixing these outrageous failures. Yet these are situations people with disabilities encounter on a regular basis and are instead told to wait patiently for actual accessibility to catch up with decades old promises.

The things that I pay for (or want to pay for) result in no or poor service for the sole reason that I use a wheelchair. The basic minimums that nondisabled people expect are delightful surprises for me when they actually happen.

The accessibility backslide must stop. The thinking must be turned upside down: if everything is accessible, then it works for everyone. Accessible cabs can pick up all people. Accessible airplanes will ensure the safety of all passengers and their vital property. Community spaces and services like sidewalks and public transit that are accessible work for everyone.

Accessibility is not a lofty goal to aspire to. It is not the thing to work on when everything else is done. It is not the cherry on top. It is not the last thing we should get to when building or maintaining our society.

Why is it that, 32 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have to sue their communities for accessible sidewalks and public transit? (Many more examples can be easily found in an online news search.) We have known all these years that it is not only illegal to maintain and build an inaccessible society, but it is also unjust, wrong, and frankly unproductive for society. But it still keeps happening.

All around me I see accessibility in name only. I see sidewalks that work except for missing ramps or areas impassable due to restaurants expanding into public spaces. I see pool lifts, but depleted (or just plain missing) batteries. I see public transit, but broken elevators. The accessibility is supposed to be there, but it is broken by a missing link, a forgotten detail, or just plain negligence.

People with disabilities have been told: just ask for the improvements. Be patient. Don’t get angry. But years of asking nicely have only resulted in earlier accessibility gains being lost, being put by the wayside, being underfunded and de-prioritized. In many real tangible ways, the promise of the ADA now feels like a broken promise.

I’m tired of asking the same hotel I have visited for 10 years to make their pool lift actually work. Sometimes it does, mostly it doesn’t. I ask in advance, when I arrive, during my stay, and after for the same thing over and over again. I’m tired of asking for the things that I need, that are supported by decades of law and litigation—as if they are doing me a favor when it is just the right and legal thing to do. I’m tired of pleading for my rights and humanity to be recognized.

I’ve seen it all around me where I live. Venues that have forgotten about accessible seating (or plain old safety). Construction and restaurants that have forgotten about accessible sidewalks. Having to use my wheelchair to travel from the third train stop from my location because the closest two had broken elevators and it was my only way of reliably getting home since I can’t trust an accessible cab will show up. (And who knows how long I would have to wait for one.)

I’ve reached out to local government only to receive a delayed and lackluster response. It isn’t enough. Leaving behind people with disabilities due to forgetfulness is not OK. Every community is responsible. We are all responsible together for ensuring, maintaining, and building accessibility. It must be done and there must be no further delay because every postponement just means more work and additional expense down the road. (For an egregious example, check out the recent news that New York City reached an agreement to make 95%—not the entire system!—of the subway accessible in 33 years or 65 years after the ADA. Can it be called progress if it takes a lifetime?)

The anger is coming. The people who continue to be left behind and pushed down, excluded from their community with inaccessibility and cavalier disregard, will eventually hit their limit of patient tolerance. Plus, just look at the population growth: there are more people with disabilities entering our ranks.

All communities need to take an honest look at themselves for accessibility. Instead of reacting (or failing to react) to complaints, they need to take a proactive approach to assess accessibility barriers and create plans to remove them. It’s time to actually build the society we want and expect for everyone. It’s time to finally become accessible.


It’s time for accessible cabs in our nation’s capital

By DNW Contributors / 2022-05-18
Posted in

As a wheelchair user living in Washington, DC, I have found accessible taxi service highly unreliable for decades. I have filed too many complaints to count. I participated in mediation after charging a taxi company with discrimination, resulting only in empty promises for improving service with no actual actions to do so. I joined the DC Department for Hired Vehicles (DFHV) accessibility advisory committee, only to find no actual actions taking place as a result of the meetings. The refrain is simply repeated over and over: cab companies are not employing enough wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs).

Kelly Mack is a communications professional, specializing in health issues. In her spare time, she writes articles about living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and moderates for She has lived with RA since age two, resulting in significant physical disabilities and use of a motorized wheelchair. Kelly earned a MA in Communications from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in Psychology from Bryn Mawr College. You can find Kelly on Twitter @MsKellyM

It’s time for accessible cabs in DC

It’s long past time that DC fulfill its promise made in 2010 by then Council Member (now Mayor) Bowser and make cabs in DC fully accessible. Ignoring the civil rights of people with disabilities and denying access to services offered to the rest of the paying public should no longer be tolerated as we approach the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While DFHV claims the pandemic continues to harm the cab industry, their own data demonstrates cab numbers for non-WAVs have recovered and in fact increased compared to 2019. However, WAVs taking trips have declined by more than 50% and continue to decrease.

According to DC law, at least 20% of each taxi fleet should have been made accessible by the end of 2018. See citation:

DC taxi code:

§ 50–301.25. Accessible public and private vehicles-for-hire.

(4) (C) At least 20% of each taxicab fleet shall be wheelchair-accessible by December 31, 2018.

However, DFHV reported in February 2022 they are only requiring 12% of taxi fleets be accessible. While DFHV claims cabs are meeting their regulation requirement of 12% WAVs in the fleets, they are counting cabs that are not taking trips, but instead sitting in parking lots. WAVs actually taking trips (providing service) amount to 1.5% of the fleet or merely 73 out of 4,770 cabs (as of March data).

Cab Regulator is not enforcing existing law

Additionally, basic math reveals that cab fleets are not even meeting that illegal 12% minimum. A generous calculation using the total number of WAVs in March 2022 (including those not taking trips and just sitting in parking lots) is 232 and the total cab fleet is 4,770 cabs, meaning 4.9% of the total fleet is accessible. This doesn’t meet the old rule of 12% nor the current one requiring 20% of fleets be accessible by the end of 2018.

A 2017 WAMU news piece reveals that the issue of WAVs sitting in cab company parking lots without drivers is a longstanding one (and not created by the pandemic as DFHV has indicated): Wheelchair Accessible Taxis in D.C. Go Unused, Setting Back Efforts To Improve Transportation Equity.

This is unacceptable and results in poor or denial of service for people with disabilities across the city. In my case alone, a cab company admitted they had fulfilled less than 50% of my bookings. And bookings are bound to be suppressed because people with disabilities will call a cab only as the last resort because they are so unreliable. No shows mean missed appointments, missed flights, missed visits with loved ones, and more costs in time and anxiety that are never repaid.

In short, DFHV is failing to regulate and the cab companies are failing to follow DC law.

This level of discrimination can no longer be tolerated. While nondisabled people can call another cab company or use a rideshare app to fill a cab no-show, due to the shortage of WAVs in the entire city, people with disabilities don’t have this option. Cab companies must provide equal service for people with disabilities and DC government must protect the rights of people with disabilities through stronger regulation and enforcement.

Let’s fix this

Several actions need to be taken immediately to rectify this significant equity and discrimination issue:

  • Only actively operating WAVs (or WAVs taking trips) should be counted toward the taxi companies’ accessibility requirements. Counting WAVs sitting in parking lots with no drivers should no longer be acceptable. If they are not providing trips, then they are not fulfilling their purpose of accessible taxi service. Begin immediate fines for companies not meeting the active WAVs minimum requirement.
  • Enhance incentives for WAV drivers and administer training and education to improve customer relations. I have personally experienced WAV drivers not wanting to pick me up because they don’t want to ‘deal with’ customers using wheelchairs. This has to stop and be unacceptable (finable/punishable) behavior for which both drivers and taxi companies must be held accountable. Without such accountability there can be no real expectation of change.
  • Immediately launch the unified dispatch for WAV vehicles and publicize this to customers with disabilities (this has already been promised for several years and still hasn’t been implemented).
  • Enact regulation requiring that 50% of all active cabs taking trips must be wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) within five years (2027).
  • Until this goal is reached, enact a regulation that any/all new vehicles going into taxi service must be wheelchair accessible. Inaccessible vehicles should not be increasing in number. Only WAV drivers and vehicles should be onboarded moving forward.
  • After the 50% goal is reached, develop a plan for achieving 100% taxi accessibility within the following five years (2032). Full accessibility for cabs is completely achievable. London is an example, as all of their cabs have been accessible for many years. Anyone can ride in a London cab and it should be the same in DC.
  • Enact regulation that 30% of rideshare vehicles operate with accessibility within three years (2025).

People with disabilities deserve swift action to make cab access equitable. Waiting 32 years is already much too long to rectify this discrimination.


Kelly Mack

Washington, DC


Rideshare Service Not Sharing with Service Dogs

By DNW Contributors / 2022-01-04
Posted in , ,

Rain beats on my head, a few degrees above making the drops snow. With the wind blowing off the lake, I may as well be standing in the middle of a blizzard … without the protective clothing because this downpour wasn’t predicted. Nor is my guide dog wearing her raincoat. She sits beside me, shivering and otherwise unmoving, loyal and obedient despite the circumstances.

Contributed by Alice Eakes, you can read more from her at Ableism Disables

Those circumstances are one more Uber driver who has refused our trip due to the presence of the dog. The app said he was there. He pulled up in front of the pharmacy where I’d gone to get my COVID booster. I heard the car idle in front of me a few yards, so walked toward it, hand on my dog’s harness.

The instant I touched the left rear fender, he took off and canceled the trip …. He then charged me a cancellation fee.

I pull out my phone and order another car. This time, I take the precaution of letting the driver know I am blind and traveling with a service dog. Seconds after I hit send, the driver cancels the trip—or rather, sends it to another driver. Fortunately, this one takes us, though he admits he’s afraid of dogs.

An unfortunately typical experience

I wish this were an unusual experience. For blind people all over the U.S., maybe the world, we know it is not. Although Uber has been sued more than once and ordered by a federal judge to stop their drivers from not taking service dogs, the occurrences of ride refusal are horrendous. I’d say one third of my rides are refused. I call and complain. I fill out forms. I talk to Uber employees. I get my money back for trips for which I have been charged, and nothing improves. Nothing has improved in the four years since I brought my dog home.

She’s small at 45 pounds. She’s clean and gentle and well-behaved. She does not get on seats. She does not bark or whine or do anything naughty except perhaps sniff the floor a little more than I like. Yet we have been left standing in 95 degree temperatures with no shade, and pouring down rain with no shelter; left standing when I had a leg injury, and left standing with groceries. The drivers don’t care. They think the car is theirs and therefore their right to refuse whom they like. Some drivers have even wanted to put my dog in the trunk or the hatchback.

You never separate a blind person from their guide. This is unsafe for the dog and the user. When I refuse, the driver refuses the trip.

Once I had a driver cancel the trip when I had even gotten into the vehicle. He claimed he was suddenly sick.

Filing complaints changes nothing

Filing complaints changes nothing. The rideshare companies; i.e., Uber and Lyft, tell us drivers are removed from the platform if they do this more than once. We have no proof of this, and it happens so much, we doubt they do more than suspend them.

Before I even received my dog, I had drivers leave me the instant they found out I am blind. A few times when I have gone somewhere without my dog since then, I have had drivers drop the trip the instant I ask them to let me know where they are since I can’t see them.

… or gets me blackballed

For a while, I tried using taxis. I got treated the same way. When I filed a complaint against one driver, I discovered I could suddenly no longer get a taxi ride. I’d been blackballed for filing a complaint regarding my rights being violated.

With COVID (and in the winter), rideshares and taxis are more critical than ever for disabled people

Especially now, in a Midwest winter, when walking is not easy due to the weather, and during COVID, when I’d rather not take a bus or train and expose myself to many people, rideshare has grown more important. So, being denied a trip has made me late for medical appointments, breakfast at a friend’s house, and work meetings. Blind people, just like other people, have places to go and dates to keep. In many places, public transit is not available, is too far from the location, or is simply inconvenient such as when bringing home groceries. Yet rideshare programs such as Uber and Lyft and, yes taxi companies, pay lip service to accessibility, while allowing their drivers to thumb their noses at the law.

On Uber Pet – it isn’t just separate, it’s not equal

As a postscript, I wish to note that Uber now has Uber Pet. People have suggested I use that. Here are some reasons why I do not:

  1. It is less available and therefore takes longer to get a trip.
  2. It costs more.
  3. I have a right to take the same kind of trip as any sighted person and expecting me to take Uber Pet is not merely separate, it is not equal either.