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Disabled friendly ride sharing a reality now in Bengaluru, thanks to Uber!

In a significant step towards creating an inclusive society for the disabled in the field of transport, ride-sharing service giant Uber, in partnership with IT solutions provider Mphasis, launched Uber Access and Uber Assist in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

Uber Assist cars are available as sedans, while the Uber Access is a minibus that comes with a heightened roof and forward facing wheelchair with a hydraulic lift system. This makes it convenient for users to easily get on the vehicle and exit.

All Uber Access vehicles will have four-point tie-down straps, which are used to secure the wheelchair to the floor to ensure it stays stable. The Assist sedans have their boot free to load equipment like wheelchairs.

This is the first time that Uber Access is being launched anywhere in Asia, and there is a fleet of 50 retrofitted vehicles.

The Assist, which will start plying on the streets of Bengaluru this week, is priced at the same range as the Uber X. The Access is set to hit the streets in a couple of weeks.

Speaking at the launch, Meenu Bhambani of Mphasis said, "The vision was to make it more than a modified vehicle. The hardware is just one part. What we really needed was for a sensitive driver. With the intensive training program that the driver partners have gone through, it will surely make a difference."

The driver partners have been trained and certified by Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC), and are equipped with the skills to assist passengers with disabilities, as well as those who need extra help during their ride. They are taught by a code called SAHARA, which stands for See, Ask, Hear, Act accordingly, Remember and Add to memory.

"They were very receptive to the training and felt like it was a skill to have, not just as a driver but also as a human being," remarked Rama Chari, Director, DEOC.

Swami, who was one of the first batches of driver partners trained for Assist and Access agrees. "We had all encountered such passengers with special needs but did not know how to make their ride as comfortable as possible. Now we do," he said.

There are 500 Assist cars for the first phase of the project, said Amit Jain, President, Uber India. "It is a new beginning in the field of accessibility, dignity and inclusivity. We aim to expand these services slowly to the rest of the country. We would call this the start of a journey rather than a pilot".

Many potential users were present at the launch and they seemed happy with the features.

"Safety and dignity are two major concerns when it comes to transportation," said Nalini Girish, businesswoman and wheelchair tennis player, after trying the Access vehicle. "It has rear entry, which means that riders face forward when they are travelling, unlike other wheelchair-accessible vehicles where riders have to face sideways or backwards." Girish said that this made her feel safer and more independent.

Girish suggested that if the rates were more affordable, that would make it even better for the disabled community. "The whole point is accessibility and though I can afford it, not everyone may be able to", she pointed out.

This report was filed by Priyam Chhetri from Bengaluru for Newz Hook.

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