Stranger Rides

October 31st, 2019 By Maria Johnson

A young woman sitting in the backseat of a car. She has a tablet open in front of her, and a closed latop on her lap. She's facing the camera and smiling. Through the window to her left is a field with some trees in it.

As children, our parents told us to never get in a car with a stranger. Even if they promise your favorite candy and a puppy, you do not get into the car.

Okay, I have a confession. I get into cars with strangers. Yep. They know what I need, and they can give it to me. I need a ride!

Please don’t start calling my mom or lecturing me on “Stranger Danger” too quickly. My mom knows I do this. She’s fine with it. In fact, a lot of people do this. These strangers are the various rideshare drivers who give me the rides I need.

I still use the local MTS Access bus when my schedule allows that kind of time. If I need more direct transportation, rideshare services, like Uber or Lyft, are great options to have in your back pocket.

No, no, no, no! I knew this day would come and I dreaded it. Here comes the panic because I don’t drive.

The Uber and Lyft apps are super accessible when using accessibility features on a smartphone. However, these apps were confusing and downright intimidating to me at first. I’ve witnessed other blind friends request a car via these apps many times, and I slowly started to pick up bits and pieces on how to work them. Even as simple as they seemed to be, I just felt it would be less frustrating if I had sighted friends work the apps for me. Sighted people were so much faster at it – why should I bother learning how to navigate them?

Well, my first unexpected use of the Uber app came a few years ago. I got a call to pick up my sick daughter from school. No, no, no, no! I knew this day would come and I dreaded it. Here comes the panic because I don’t drive. What was I going to do? My friends were working, and I had no way to get to the school. I paused. I knew what I had to do. I had to use the Uber app to request a car – with no help from anyone. I’m pretty sure I started sweating profusely at this point. I hope I can do this, I thought.

After several failed attempts and cussing out VoiceOver, I completed the request. I got in a car with a stranger and picked up my daughter. Wow! I felt so incredibly independent! Actually, I felt like a total badass mom! I picked up my child from school, just like in the good ‘ol sighted days.

Since mastering the use of these rideshare apps, my experience with numerous drivers has been fairly good. I don’t always tell them I’m blind from the get-go – I mean, as long as the driver tells me his name and it matches the app, and they say my name and it matches, well, me – I’m usually good to go. Is it really necessary to divulge the fact that I am blind and can’t read the license plate or see the make of the car? Personally, I feel it is my choice to let the blind cat out of the bag if the situation warrants it.

A couple of months ago, I had a situation with an ignorant driver that spurred a change in the way I use these apps altogether.

I won’t go into the details, but a driver refused to tell me his name. He did not refuse just once, but four times. Even after I let the blind cat out of the bag and I explained to him that knowing his name was the way I could confirm he was the correct ride per the app. He then proceeded to tell me to go read the license plate and if it matches the app, I can get in the car. I told him I couldn’t see it. Then he said, “You walked from the sidewalk to the car, why can’t you read the license plate?” Anyway, the point is, I did not want to be in that position again and wanted a way to have more in place to identify my rides. I knew of a solution.

That day I connected my Uber and Lyft apps to my Aira app. When I need to arrange a ride, I go into my Aira app and ask an agent to set up a ride with the rideshare I choose. The agent will watch for the correct color and make of car, and get this, they will read the license plate on arrival! I feel a lot more confident having this extra visual assistance – it takes my ride experience to a whole new level. And, telling the driver that I am blind is still my choice.

I think it’s smart to have some additional apps on your phone, like Uber and Lyft, just in case you need them. You might need the Starbucks app too. Oh, just me? Whatever. These ride share apps, like many others, assist us in being independent, in control, and feeling like a total rockstar because we CAN get where we need to go and handle our own stuff!

I’ll ride with strangers anytime, and if they have candy (or wine), that’s a bonus!


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