Austin businesses sued on eve of Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary

AUSTIN -- Twenty-four years ago the American with Disabilities Act became law, but many in Austin say they're still having trouble getting equal treatment by all kinds of businesses. So they're taking those they call the worst offenders to court.

For David Wittie, calling a cab doesn't mean he'll get a ride.

"I've called many cabs in the past the typical response is we are still looking for a cab, and if I call back an hour later we are still looking for a wheelchair accessible cab Mr. Wittie," he said.

Now Wittie, along with the Texas Civil Rights Project and ADAPT of Texas are suing Austin's Yellow Cab. It's just one of the businesses the groups say are not abiding by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"Unfortunately 24 years after the passage of the ADA the struggle continues for accessibility for the community of persons with disabilities," said Attorney Joseph Berra with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Thirty lawsuits have been filed across the state,10 of them against Austin businesses, including Yellow Cab, the Live/Work 1305 Lofts on East 6th, the Austin Club on 9th, a Pizza Hut and La Michoacana Meat Market, both on Riverside Drive.

Rio Dayclub and Nightclub is being sued because it's rooftop pool isn't handicapped-accessible.

Uber and Lyft, transportation network companies, are also facing ADA lawsuits.

Jennifer McPhail has spent her life in a wheelchair, and says she's tried to use Lyft's services many times, but can never be picked up.

"They don't have any accessible equipment for me to ride in and they don't have plans to make it accessible," she said. "I hate going to court, but I'll do it because I know it's the right thing to do and it's going to make other people's lives better not just my own."

Lyft responded with this statement:

"Lyft aims to accommodate anyone in the community who needs a ride, and many disabled individuals, who were previously undeserved by existing transportation options, now actively use and rely on Lyft as a reliable, safe and affordable way to get around."

After the press conference, 38 minutes after Wittie called for a Yellow Cab, one finally arrived.

The driver says there's not many wheelchair-accessible cabs like his in Austin, but believes there should be more.

"They're doing a lot but it's not enough, said cab driver Wilson Ihonvbere. "I don't see why a wheelchair would be out there for 10 minutes, 40 minutes waiting for a cab."

Wittie hopes his lawsuit will help bring about change and allow other mobility challenged people to get where they need to go.

"We're not in it for the money, what we want is access," he said.

We did speak to the General Manager of the Austin Club -- he is surprised about the lawsuit and told us the building has a handicapped accessibility ramp on the side entrance and it's been there since 1980. He says many guests, including the Texas Attorney have used it.

An Uber spokesman tells KVUE News the company's technology increases access to transportation options for all, including persons with disabilities.

Yellow Cab responded with this statement:

"We just received copies of multiple lawsuits filed against Yellow Cab, Uber and Lyft in Austin based on the statutory obligation to "enable persons with disabilities to participate . . . and fully enjoy all public facilities within the state." Yellow Cab is absolutely committed to working with the Texas Civil Rights Project, elected leaders and regulatory officials to develop stronger laws and enforcement mechanisms to assure that all transportation providers comply with such requirements. In fact, we have previously sought additional permits in Austin dedicated to wheelchair accessible vehicles, and we very recently proposed that Houston City Council adopt a requirement that all on-demand taxi like services (which would include companies like Uber and Lyft) maintain a minimum 10% of their fleet as wheelchair accessible. Yellow Cab enthusiastically supports stronger ordinances and reasonable means of enforcement to assure that all persons with disabilities receive equivalent transportation services."


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