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Uber’s special-assistance service for disabled and senior riders expands to LA

Uber has expanded its UberAssist service to Los Angeles, enabling it to cater for disabled passengers and senior citizens who may need special help with their ride.

Using drivers trained by Chicago-based non-profit outfit Open Doors, UberAssist offers help with getting in and out of vehicles which also, if required, offer enough space to accommodate equipment such as folding wheelchairs and scooters.

The ride-sharing company says it sees Assist as part of its long-term strategy to offer transportation options “that fit everyone’s needs.”

The service launched in Chicago and Houston in September last year, and since then has also been rolled out in San Francisco.

Related: Uber bans firearms in its cars, for drivers and passengers

Requesting a ride using UberAssist is simple enough. You just tap on the Promotions section of the Uber app, enter the code “assist”, set your location and make the request. Rides are charged at regular rates in line with the company’s UberX option.

The company has also made moves to assist Uber drivers with hearing difficulties. For example, following consultation earlier this year with the National Association of the Deaf, Uber has started testing various app features designed to help its deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers. These included a flashing light on the app to indicate a ride request, as well as a notification for the rider letting them know the driver has hearing loss.

Related: Uber drivers now outnumber yellow taxis in NY City

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Uber when it comes to serving those with disabilities. In September 2014, for example, the San Francisco-based company was hit with a lawsuit from plaintiffs – the National Federation of the Blind of California among them – claiming discrimination against blind people by not allowing their guide dogs to enter Uber vehicles.

Uber told the San Francisco Examiner at the time that its policy is to terminate the contracts of drivers who refuse to transport service animals.

“The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities,” the company said.

A California court ruled in April that Uber will have to defend itself against the lawsuit.