Rebuilding Lives After Spinal Cord Injury

Uber & Being Social

by Jeremy Einbinder

Uber is Killing My Social Life!

As someone in limbo between college life and work life, any plan I would make would be a spontaneous

I am 24 years old and live in a New Jersey suburb. I’m a recent college graduate, presently with very limited employment, and I have cerebral palsy. I don’t drive and I’m not near enough to bustling activity that could be considered “walking distance” (even in my wheelchair).  As someone in limbo between college life and work life, any plan I would make would be a spontaneous, but nonetheless intentional outing. If someone has a car and they want to go out with friends for dinner and drinks, they drive their car.  If someone does not have a car, they may choose to take an Uber. Consider the fact that I don’t have universal access to Uber and you’ll begin to see the problem.

For wheelchair users, accessibility isn’t simply clearing physical barriers in society; it could have just as much to do with social barriers. The Internet age and the “sharing economy” have streamlined social barriers for most people maturing into adulthood in the 2010s. Mobile applications like Uber and Lyft are economically sound options for people who cannot or choose not to buy a car. Ride sharing is also a tremendous tool for the spontaneity of people’s social lives. That, more than anything else is what many wheelchair users lack. Ride sharing allows a driver to pick you up minutes after you ask. One of the problems with these services (particularly for disabled people) is that the drivers simply use their own car. One of the obvious challenges with people using their own car is that the service is not going to be accessible to all passengers.

I’d like to be able to make social plans whenever is convenient for me and anyone else involved. Not being able to do this can be a major impediment in a disabled person’s ability to make and retain friends.

There are transportation services for disabled patrons that are catered to their needs in a very minimal sense, but they are cumbersome and require advanced planning that does not always match the speed at which plans tend to happen for young adults with adequate access to Uber or Lyft. A common service I have occasionally used is AccessLink, which is a busing service that requires 24 hours of advanced notice to book a ride, as well as availability 20 minutes before and after the requested time. In addition, someone must know exactly when they plan to be done with an outing, as a customer must request the ride and the pick-up time in the same phone call. This is highly impractical for anyone who decides around dinner time to have a night out with their friends.

Socialization should not be an arduous process.

It is time for wheelchair users to experience the same level of social spontaneity as their able-bodied peers, whether they’re able to drive or not. One ultimate goal of many disabled people is to be as independent as possible.  It isn’t sufficient or even correct to say that disabled people need to be treated “like everyone else,” because we don’t. We need to be noticed in such a way that our specific needs are considered. To be treated “like everyone else” would mean no disabled parking spaces, no curb cuts, no larger bathroom stalls, and no accommodations in general that make it possible for disabled people to navigate society.  Socialization should not be an arduous process. Just as strides have been made in physical access of public spaces, strides have to be made in the social realm too. A ride sharing application specifically for wheelchair-using passengers is a step in the right direction.