Like any other Delhi resident, Preeti Singh likes to take an occasional cab when she travels around the city. Singh, who is wheelchair-bound, says she doesn't want sympathy for her condition, but aims to live her life like anyone else. But sometimes unpleasant experiences with private cabs pose an impediment for her mobility, she says.
Preeti took to Facebook to narrate her experiences with two Uber drivers in one day who were unhappy about the fact that she was on a wheelchair.
"Gaadi ganda ho jaega (the car will get dirty) is something that even other Uber drivers have told me several times. But I don't know what happened that day, I usually try not to get upset about these things," she told HuffPost India over the phone.
Her intent was not to get attention or sympathy but create a conversation about the difficulties faced by people with disabilities.
"I was going out after a long time that day. And both the cabs created a fuss about my wheelchair. I usually tell the Uber drivers before they arrive that I am on a wheelchair. The first guy was created a fuss about it in the beginning, but he calmed down after a while. He also created an issue while I was getting off at my destination because it takes time," she says and adds, "But I didn't say anything."
She says that it takes her about 5-6 minutes to get off a cab since she has to be assisted.
But when she was coming back home the same day, she says the second cab guy was extremely rude. "It's the same reaction I get many times. I am immune to it. There was once an Ola driver who had told me 'aap utar jaiye (please get off)'. Drivers have even told me I should travel in my own car."
She says the day these two incidents took place, it was raining heavily. "I also feel bad sometimes. So I asked my brother to get a towel so that after I got off he could clean the car just to appease the driver. My brother did clean the car, when the driver got scared and said I will do it on my own."
But unlike other days when such incidents take place, she says she couldn't sleep at night. "My brother, who is much younger, saw me awake and asked me what happened, and I started crying."
She says "I am a strong person, being wheelchair bound is not all of my identity, but that day I thought I should talk about it."
Her Facebook post has since gone viral:
However, she says that Uber got in touch with her 14 hours later, only after NDTV contacted them. "They were really nice to me and apologised. They said they are working at the backend to see how they can put something on their app for people with disabilities."
But, Preeti says, they have not told her by when the changes will be put into place. In an email, someone called Ryan from the Community Operations Team at Uber told her, "I''ve checked your account and see an outstanding amount of INR 131.90, however, I see no reason for you to be charged, which is why I've dropped the charges. That being said, I completely understand that the motive of your message wasn't for a refund, but it was for making a positive change for people who are disabled."
"The easiest thing that they can do is have a carrier on top of the car, or boot space. And to train their drivers to be polite. I have had some amazing drivers too, but can't always pray that I will get a nice person every time."
She says, "Accessibility is a clause in Uber, I could have sued them."
She is aware that Uber in New York city was sued for not being disabled-friendly.
In the email, Uber promised her that they will take steps to improve standards of drivers. "Considering that you've made a special request of not taking severe action against any driver partner, we will work towards improving our driver standards instead of imposing any action against the drivers in question."
She agrees that the basic step is sensitization, but in the long run they need to introduce other features. "A simple option in the app for people with disabilities would be a great step. In other developed countries, cabs even have ramps."
Preeti says she likes to travel around alone, and often takes the Delhi Metro and DTC buses. While she says the metro is very accessible, she says even DTC bus conductors don't know that some buses have ramps for the wheelchair-bound. "They all know me by face. I have had to tell so many of them how to use the ramp. They also get irritated with me sometimes."
And while her post has seemingly created ripples in Uber and social media in India, Preeti, who is a CA intern, plans to start a YouTube channel about her own life that can create conversations and awareness about people with disabilities.
Also on HuffPost India