Disability Rights advocates to hold street demonstration in Buffalo to protest Uber tactic

The Western New York Independent Living, Inc. family of agencies (WNYIL) is calling out the network transportation company Uber for its cynical attempt to bribe the public to ignore the hard-won rights of citizens with disabilities. While it is not authorized to carry passengers in the Empire State outside of New York City, for a four-hour period today, July 15th, Uber’s otherwise idle drivers in Buffalo, Albany and Utica are carrying stocked cooler chests and responding to “Ice Cream” hails on its smart phone app by delivering up to three free ice cream bars. The firm’s management claims it is just part of a 400-city-wide early celebration of National Ice Cream Day, July 17th; but the Associated Press observed that the stunt was part of Uber’s ploy to continue pursuing its so-far “failed…bid to expand into Upstate New York.”

WNYIL’s advocates will further expose this “promotion” as an attempt to distract the public from Uber’s cavalier disregard of the needs of citizens with disabilities at a Press Conference, to be held TODAY, Friday July 15th at 1:00 PM, in front of its 3108 Main Street office, by Highgate Avenue, in Buffalo’s University District. Any community leaders who share our concerns for their constituents with disabilities are invited to sign up to speak by calling Todd Vaarwerk at (716) 836-0822, ext. 101.

We look to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination by commercial enterprises — such as on-demand transportation services. Our advocates would not be opposed to the entry of Uber, nor its competitor Lyft, into Upstate New York IF they would provide legally enforceable guarantees that the needs of all riders with disabilities were met. We have reason to doubt their intent, as the legislation they first promoted expressly excluded the accommodation of customers with disabilities, a loophole that was removed in negotiations with lawmakers. Where it currently operates in New York City, there are no accessible Uber cars. Unless the passenger can get his or her own equipment into the vehicle’s trunk, they are told to find rides elsewhere. Also, there have been instances of consumers with service animals – required by law to be allowed in any public or commercial area — who were refused rides, as Uber drivers use their personal vehicles.

The New York State Legislature ended its 2015-2016 session without the Senate and Assembly reaching an accord on the details of insurance coverage required in order to permit network transportation companies to serve Upstate New York. However, there is strong support in Albany to allow their operation beyond New York City. We feel the ice cream promotion is a calculated strategy to induce the public to pressure their legislators, and get them to concur on Upstate expansion, without regard for the needs of their fellow citizens with disabilities.

We advocates ask you: please don’t fall for it — don’t sell out our access for ice cream!

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