Uber’s Sound Business Sense


While the United States unemployment levels have dropped to below 5 percent, the percentage of people who are deaf or hard of hearing and who are unemployed stands at around 70 percent. Despite many gains in social equality in the deaf community over the last century, the struggle to find meaningful work continues to be an obstacle to living independent lives. In the United States, 400,000 people are deaf and another 20 million people are classified as heard of hearing.

Uber, the app that allows riders to request car service, and which operates in 489 cities around the world, works with 1.1 million drivers as independent contractors, known as partners. Uber drivers use their own vehicles and are rated by their passengers on their service: promptness, cleanliness of vehicle, professionalism, etc. Drivers are able to set their own schedules; many people drive as a part-time way to earn extra income while other drivers are on the road full-time.

Uber has created a number of different technologies to support drivers who are deaf, and to date, 6,000 of them have activated and are driving with a feature in the driver partner app for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Partners can self-identify as deaf or hard of hearing in the partner app, which unlocks the following features for drivers and riders:

The Uber app allows drivers who are deaf to request a rider’s destination ahead of time.

• The driver’s app signals a new trip request with a flashing light instead of the usual audio notification, making it easier for partners to notice when there’s a new opportunity to give someone a ride.

• The ability to call a deaf or hard-of-hearing partner is turned off for the rider — instead riders are directed to text their driver if they need to communicate with them. Partners who use this setting are less likely to have rides canceled after a failed phone call.

• A message appears letting the rider know that the driver is deaf or hard of hearing.

• Once a partner accepts a ride, riders will be prompted to enter their destination in advance rather than telling the driver and asking them to enter the destination manually. The app can then provide turn-by-turn directions for the driver.

Not only has Uber been beneficial to the drivers who are deaf — these drivers have boosted Uber’s bottom line, providing more rides per month on average than hearing drivers.

Uber has just started a new partnership with the Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), the largest deaf-led nonprofit in the U.S.

Together, Uber and CSD are working on:

• Creating online Uber video support guides in American Sign Language (ASL).

• Hosting sign-up events across the country to get the word out to the deaf community about the opportunity to drive with Uber.

“I get to meet new and interesting riders all the time and drive around people who have never interacted with the deaf community before,” said Alicia Johnson, a Washington, D.C., driver who has completed more than 1,500 trips with Uber. “Plus, I’m able to make money in a flexible way so I can pursue my other passions, like playing football and coaching softball.”

While it does not yet have statistics on numbers of drivers with other kinds of disabilities, Uber drivers also include people with physical disabilities who are wheelchair users and may drive modified cars.