Disability rights group sues ride-hailing apps Get Me, Fare

A state disability rights group has sued the ride-hailing apps Get Me and Fare in federal court, arguing that because the apps only partially offer text-to-speech software, they are unusable for blind people and therefore in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For example, Austin resident and accessibility consultant Jeanine Lineback, who is blind, was able to set up an account but was not able to request a ride, the lawsuit says.

The National Federation of the Blind chapter in Texas is suing on behalf of Lineback and four other Austinites, arguing that they are entitled to damages as well as an injunction against the apps, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday. The injunction would require that the apps’ companies make these apps accessible to people who are blind.

Representatives with Get Me and Fare could not immediately be reached for comment.

All five plaintiffs regularly use taxis and would like to have the opportunity to use these ride-hailing apps, the suit says.

The reason ride-hailing app companies should take a particular interest in making their apps available to people who are blind should be obvious, the suit argues.

“Get Me and other similar taxi services are a critical transportation option for many blind individuals in Austin, Texas,” the suit says. “Due to distances between destinations and the limitations of public transportation and paratransit, many blind persons must use taxi services to travel from one place to another.”

The suit also argues that if these kinds of apps put traditional taxis out of business, people who are blind will have even fewer options to get around. The suit says “other competing taxi services” operating in Austin have incorporated this technology into their apps, but does not specify which ones.

Uber, which stopped operating in Austin in May after Austinites voted to keep the city’s laws regulating ride-hailing apps in place, said in a 2015 press release that its app is compatible with text-to-speech features on iPhones. The same press release said Uber has a consultant on its team to advocate for the blind and visually impaired.

Fasten, a ride-hailing app which still operates in Austin, advertises its “improvements for the visually impaired,” saying it makes “registering and adding a payment method much easier.”

The five plaintiffs and other blind individuals wrote to Get Me and Fare about this issue, “hoping to resolve this matter without litigation,” the suit says. But Get Me and Fare “failed to explain” whether they have “any concrete plans to make the software accessible.”

Text-to-speech technology is built into iPhones, the suit says.

“Companies like Apple and Google have already done part of the work to assist app developers in making their apps accessible, by publishing accessibility guidelines,” the suit says. “These show how to correctly identify and code the data fields in software applications in a way that enables the text-to-speech software to ‘read’ the information to blind users. It is not difficult for a mobile developer to properly code a mobile app so that it is accessible.”

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