On World Disability Day - December 3 - Uber has rolled out a new initiative called UberaASSIST. The taxi aggregator has tied up with iCare Life, a Singapore-based training and certification company to train and educate service providers. Under the UberASSIST program, iCare Life is training top rated Uber drivers to provide additional assistance to the elderly, and riders with disabilities. The drivers are trained to help these passengers when getting into or exiting their cars, and the training includes going over the safety requirements of people with different needs, along with training in folding wheelchairs, walkers, and mobility scooters. The program is being rolled out in Delhi now, and will be available in other cities soon, a spokesperson confirmed.
To enable UberASSIST, you have to go into the promotions menu, and enter the code ASSISTDEL. Once you do this, you get an extra option in your car booking menu. The cars are available at the same rates as Uber X - minimum fare of Rs. 80, with a base fare of Rs. 55, and Rs. 9 per kilometre, and Rs. 1 per minute. After selecting the option, you can just book the car as you normally would.
We tried using the option, and spoke to two different drivers in our area who were a part of the UberASSIST program. Both asked not to be named, and before we identified ourselves as journalists, confirmed that they had received a training program to help them learn how to stow a wheelchair, and how to help people in or out of the vehicle.
The drivers we spoke to told us that they had not handled any UberASSIST requests so far, but as the program has just rolled out, it's perhaps not so surprising.
However, it's worth noting that these are essentially the same cars as the regular Uber X - the only difference is that the drivers have some extra training. This means that there are no safety restraints for a wheelchair, and no other modifications to help the differently abled. The focus seems to be more on sensitivity training - it's still a welcome move, but perhaps not as far reaching as it could be.
According to iCare Life, the training is being done in a special module created for Uber, which covers different types of disabilities, and includes a course on how to communicate and ask questions about the assistance that has to be provided; emphasis is given on how and how much to help, and to have a caring attitude.
"The UberASSIST training module created by iCare Life for our select set of drivers was very helpful in sensitising them to the needs of the differently abled and other passengers requiring special care," stated Divya Chawla, Marketing Manager Uber India in a written statement. "The attitude of caring and helpfulness was emphasised upon and they also learnt some basic do's and do not's of communication and behaviour towards people with special needs."
An Uber spokesperson explained over the phone that while refitting cars to accommodate the needs of the differently abled is not happening yet, sensitisation was one of the first goals which the company wanted to address. "In India, a lot of times the people don't know how to talk in these situations, or how to offer help in a way that is not offensive," the spokesperson says. "We have already been working on rider sensitisation - so if you have a driver who is hard of hearing, then you will get a notification telling you, and we wanted to sensitise drivers to better help our passengers as well."