When you think of sounds, what comes to mind? Perhaps the sound of birds chirping or rain against a window. Maybe it is the sound of waves crashing against rocks, or the sound of the seagulls passing over the beach. Or leaves crunching beneath your feet, a crackling open fire or thunder.
Many of us retreat to places for the sole purpose of listening to our favorite sounds, whether it is to relax or be entertained by our favorite band. Think for a moment of sounds you hear every day that you do not think about.
Now think for a moment what your life would be like without sound. What if you could not hear your baby cry or a fire alarm? It is hard to imagine what our lives would be like if we could not hear. It is sometimes easy to forget that people who are deaf or partially deaf did not have wide access to technologies until recently. Nationwide telephone relay services began in the 1990’s. Similarly, built-in closed captions for television caption decoder systems were not required until the late 1990’s.
Over the last 40 years, assistive listening technologies, real-time captioning services, internet captioning applications, movie caption display systems, and a wide range of relay services that provide access to the telephone network, digital televisions with digital captions, and video remote interpreting services have been introduced, tumbling communication barriers and allowing people with hearing disabilities to have full participation in nearly all aspects of American life.
In 2015, Uber introduced an app developed specifically for the deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers. With an estimated 70% of the deaf and partially-deaf community unemployed or underemployed, Uber hopes to empower people with new economic opportunities. According to Charity Jackson, Uber Public Affairs spokesperson, the “design process started from extensive conversations with our deaf and hard-of-hearing partners, which helped identify frustrating interactions with the app in the driving experience. In coordination with the National Association for the Deaf, we designed new features to make it easier for these drivers to earn money using Uber.” These updates incorporate suggestions and feedback from our partners as well as the National Association of the Deaf, the nation’s leading non-profit advocating for economic empowerment for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. These services are available for Uber driver-partners in the U.S. and globally.
Among the new features in place are options such as the ability to receive flash alerts, in lieu of a sound, when a new ride request comes in, as well as the option to communicate with riders exclusively via text messages. Any driver interested in these features can simply sign into their account and turn these features on. “By providing features that specifically assist members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, we are continuing to focus on making Uber a product that is accessible for everyone,” Jackson said.
The 2010 Missouri Census states that roughly 10% of the population is deaf or partially-deaf, with approximately 100,000 residents residing in St. Louis County. “We have received positive feedback from both riders and drivers about our in-app accessibility features. We are always glad to hear that the features made booking a ride or earning a flexible income a reality for a member of the local community. Driver-partners who are deaf and hard-of-hearing across the U.S. have collectively earned more than $10 million — all by helping people get around their communities,” Jackson explained.
In conjunction with The Greater St. Louis Association of the Deaf (GSLAD), MT & Associates, LLC, Uber held a presentation for the public to answer questions on the features now available to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. According to Shelly Tisius, Owner/Interpreter at MT & Associates, LLC, “Not having barriers to employment means that the Deaf community has equal access to jobs. This is not only morally/ethically right but also elevates the use of public funds to support fully capable workers who simply cannot hear. An Uber driver who attended the event spoke of how, for once in his life, he felt equal to others. Equal access is not only a financial benefit to public funds but it has an invaluable impact on the self-esteem, autonomy, and civil rights of Deaf Americans.”
In September 2016, Uber was recognized by the Ruderman Family Foundation as one of 18 companies leading the way in supporting people with disabilities, including the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
To spread the word on Uber’s accessibility options, Jackson explained they “rely on a combination of in-app messages, emails to driver-partners as well as in-person support at our Greenlight Hub locations across the country to let driver-partners know about the various resources available to them. Uber is committed to continuing to build solutions that support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities. We are constantly innovating our technology to increase mobility choices in all cities where we operate.”
For more information on GSLAD– Greater St. Louis Association of the Deaf visit: https://www.gslad.org/
For more information on Sign Language Interpreting Services visit: www.mtapractice.com
For more information on Uber services visit: accessibility.uber.com
Photos courtesy of MT&A by That Girl Pearl Photography – https://www.thatgirlpearl.com/