Uber: Blind and Visually Impaired Riders
Blind and visually impaired (BVI) people face a substantial transportation challenge. Ridesharing services like Uber are potentially transformative solutions, but Uber’s services don’t work very well for people with visual impairments. In addition, companies like Uber possess very little knowledge of the experiences of BVI users. My goal in this research was to develop foundational knowledge that Uber could use over time to develop small and large solutions for BVI riders.
I wanted to learn about blind users’ experiences and to be able to convey those stories empathetically to stakeholders within the organization in order to motivate them to act. I designed a mixed-media study to holistically understand the transportation practices of BVI people, as well as the specific pain points in their experiences with Uber.
I used traditional User Experience research methods, such as interviews and ride alongs in Ubers, public transportation, and paratransit. I conducted a broad statistical survey of Uber’s rides database in order to scope the problem. I also developed a co-creation method for making sound recordings of participants’ worlds, in order to understand how sound can be used as part of a transportation design.
The Uber App Experience
Uber’s app is not designed for the needs of BVI users. I found coding of the app for VoiceOver (Apple’s accessibility feature that reads out text) to be very inconsistent, with many key features not coded at all. As a result, BVI users do not have access to the full range of information as sighted riders do. For example, the pickup screen offers no readout equivalent to the map for sighted users. Consequently, blind riders get an ETA of their ride, but no information about distance, route, or anything else that would help them to locate the car on the street.
The Real-World Uber Experience
Blind riders experience unique problems in the real world portion of the Uber experience, such as heightened difficulty locating their car and discrimination from drivers.
I created a prioritized set of recommendations to serve as the roadmap for future improvements to the blind and visually impaired user’s experience of Ubers app and services. These included easy fixes to items that were badly coded for screen readers, suggestions about how to provide necessary information to blind riders, and research topics about the discriminatory practices of drivers. Uber is in the process of implementing these recommendations.