Angry at Uber: Virginia woman says she was denied service due to disability
WASHINGTON (ABC7) - A Northern Virginia woman is demanding change, after she says an Uber driver denied her service because she uses a wheelchair.
"This was the most blatant display of discrimination that I have ever seen or personally experienced," said Kelley Simoneaux. "He would not accept me in his vehicle because of my wheelchair."
Simoneaux has been living with a disability since she was in high school but says she refuses to let her wheelchair define her.
"I was 16 years old when I was involved in a car accident that caused me to have a spinal cord injury and become a paraplegic, which means I am paralyzed from the waist down," she said. "But my life doesn't revolve around my wheelchair."
She's a mother, a wife, and a lawyer who works in Washington, D.C. She often uses public transportation and rideshare services, particularly Uber, to get around.
So when Simoneaux went to dinner with a friend on Wednesday night at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City, she called an Uber when it was time to head home.
When the car showed up, Simoneaux says she pulled herself into the front seat, as she's done countless times before. She says an employee at the hotel was loading her wheelchair into the back of the car when the Uber driver intervened.
"My wheelchair is very compact, the wheels come off, it folds up, it's about the size of an average suitcase," she says. "But the Uber driver got out and said there is no space for this wheelchair. And I said no sir, it comes apart, the wheels come off and the base comes down. He said no, no, there's no space for this wheelchair, there's not room in here."
At that point, an angry and embarrassed Simoneaux got out of the car.
"The sole reason I was not allowed to ride in that Uber was because of my wheelchair," she said.
Then a few minutes later, she looked at the her phone and realized Uber had still charged her for $6.80 for the ride she never took. That's when she contacted the company.
"I've asked Uber to terminate their relationship with that driver, and the second thing I asked is to talk to someone who can be a change agent within Uber. I've asked them for a conversation," she said. "This is a bigger issue than my particular instance."
Uber got back to her and reimbursed her for the charges associated with the trip, but beyond that Simoneaux says she hasn't heard much from the company.
When ABC7 News reached out to Uber, a spokesperson provided the following statement:
"Our community guidelines prohibit any type of discrimination in serving riders with disabilities. We have been in contact with the ride and continue to investigate this matter."
Uber also confirmed to ABC7 that a refund has been issued. The company says it has a dedicated team that investigates all reports of discrimination and will take appropriate action.
The company has not yet answered our questions about whether the driver involved in this specific instance is still driving for Uber.
According to Uber's Non-Discrimination Policy, discrimination against riders or drivers based on race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity, age, or any other characteristic is strictly prohibited. The policy also says any rider or driver found to have violated this prohibition will lose access to the Uber platform.
As part of the sign-up process, Uber says drivers receive information and resources on transporting riders with disabilities. Drivers must also agree to operate in compliance with all applicable accessibility laws.
"This is about the fact that I was blatantly discriminated against because I use a wheelchair," said Simoneaux. "And there are things they can do to change this. This can be changed, and I hope Uber will be in contact with me so I can have a conversation with them about how they can change their business culture to be able to have accessibility for all customers."