Uber's new Partner app breaks down barriers for hearing impaired drivers
You may already know that Uber, the smartphone-based car service rapidly gaining popularity across the world, is an inexpensive and convenient alternative to taxis. And now, five years after Uber’s launch, we have a new reason to cheer: the new Partner App features making it easier for deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers to schedule pickups and communicate with passengers.
Although the convenience of the Uber mobile app makes it easy for potential passengers to submit a trip request (which is then routed to one of Uber’s shared economy drivers) until now, it has been challenging for deaf and hearing-impaired drivers to serve their passengers efficiently.
All that changed with the new Partner app features, unveiled in May. In a collaboration between Uber and the National Association of the Deaf, new features were specifically created for the deaf or those with hearing loss; for example, instead of audio alerts, drivers can now access visual alerts.
Previously, prior to pick-up, Uber’s hard-of-hearing drivers had to rely on texting their passengers to let them know that, going forward, all communication regarding that ride would have to be done by texting. It was not only redundant, but as a result, pick-ups were frequently delayed. After the pick-up, drivers would have to rely on texting, or perhaps even pen and paper, for any special instructions or communication regarding route or directions. Relying on texting or other means of communication proved cumbersome and unreliable, and took too long.
The new app allows Partners (Uber’s moniker for its drivers) to modify the app so that a light flashes to notify them that a trip is being requested. Another feature has also been added so that passengers receive a message directly on their Uber app letting them know that their driver is deaf or hearing-impaired, and asking them to pre-enter a destination or provide any special instructions for pick-up. On the passenger’s end, the option to call the driver is removed. Passengers are also prompted to enter their final destination before the driver arrives, to ensure the driver has all of the pertinent information prior to pick-up.
Adding to the convenience is that the new features are opt-in, so hearing drivers can still use the audio alert.
The new app features are about more than just convenience, though. Ultimately, they are making employment opportunities more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. According to the results of a survey released in 2011 using statistics compiled by the Gallaudet Research Institute, adults between the ages of 18 and 44 who are deaf or have severe hearing loss are only employed at a rate of 58 percent, as opposed to 82 percent in the hearing population. And deaf or hard-of-hearing adults between the ages of 45 and 64 are only employed at a rate of 46 percent, while the rate of employment in that age group is 73 percent in the hearing population.
Since as many as 22 people out of 1000 in the United States are deaf or have a severe hearing loss, the new Partner app features could result in more job opportunities. The new app features are already making it easier for their Driving Partners who are deaf or have severe hearing loss to do their jobs and communicate with their passengers, in addition to earning income and making connections. Another benefit of the new app features is that when deaf and hearing-impaired drivers can more easily interact with their passengers they feel less socially isolated, which can lead to improved quality of life.
“The NAD applauds the efforts of Uber to promote increased work opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers," said Howard Rosenblum, CEO of The National Association of the Deaf. "Moreover, we commend Uber for enhancing their mobile app to improve communications between drivers and passengers, regardless of whether they are hearing or deaf.”
According to Greg Livadas, a spokesman for the Rochester Institute of Technology, deaf people historically have been early adopters of technology. Though there will always be initial barriers with any new technology, the new Partner app features prove that they can be broken down to support deaf communications and employment.
Although Uber is currently in over 58 countries and 300 cities worldwide, the new Partner app features for deaf and hearing impaired drivers are only available in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. for now. More cities are expected to be added soon.