Unemployment or underemployment amongst Deaf or hard of hearing Americans is close to 70%. At Uber, we’re proud to provide earning opportunities to Deaf and hard of hearing drivers across the world and in more than 200 US cities. That’s why in 2015 we started building a suite of features including flashing trip request notifications, text-only communication, and notifications so riders knew they were being matched with a Deaf or hard of hearing driver.
Today, we’re excited to introduce a tool that helps teach riders simple phrases in American Sign Language, including how to sign their name, hello, thank you, and goodbye. We hope this tool will help start a conversation between our riders and our Deaf and hard of hearing partners.
Product TeamJoin our team
Team members / roles
Team members / roles
- Mark Junkunc - Product Designer
- Adam Starr - ACD Copywriter
- Lee Riley - ACD Art Director
- Paulie Dery - ECD
- Logan Lindsell - Product Manager
- Eric Schlakman - Head of Product Content
- Azita Sayadi - Marketing Manager
- Ashley Quitoriano - Engineering Manager
- Eugene Yaroslavtsev - Engineer
- James Cox - Product Operations Manager
- Ben Metcalfe - Senior Product Manager
- The Ostrich - Film Production Team
- Left Field Labs - App Integration
All over the world, every Uber trip starts the same way. The car pulls up and the rider says their name to the driver, the driver confirms the name, and they’re off. Only that’s not how it works for Deaf or hard of hearing Drivers.
Deaf people face high levels of unemployment and underemployment—almost 70% in the US. Partnering with Uber has become a valuable resource to many Deaf people, and as more and more riders were getting matched with Deaf or hard of hearing drivers, we wanted to make sure that we were serving our deaf and hard-of-hearing partners as well as possible.
This is the story of how we worked with users to create meaningful value in people’s lives.
Where we started
To that end, we began to study and research from a variety of angles. We partnered with Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) to help with outreach, and we engaged our Deaf partners directly, asking what we were doing wrong and what improvements they’d like to see. And they had a lot to say.
Building accessibility into the app
What many drivers were most concerned about was finding a better way to communicate with riders. They wanted to be able to tell their passengers they were Deaf before the pickup. Deaf drivers were often disabling the calling option, since if a rider called, the driver would not be able to hear her. But the rider would not know why calling wasn’t working, causing frustration for riders and drivers alike, and raising the probability of cancellations. We added a notification to let riders know their driver was Deaf or hard-of-hearing, and that they should message their driver if they needed to get in touch.
Another problem Deaf drivers faced was the potential for missing incoming ride requests, since the visual cues in the app were easy to miss, especially while driving.
Flashing dispatch screen
When a rider request comes in the screen changes and a flash blinks to alert the driver. On its own, without the flash, the change in screen is rather subtle.
Turn off calling - text only
Deaf drivers are unable to converse over the phone. This leads to a poor experience for the rider and frustration for the driver.
Enter destination first
To ease communication, we prompted riders to enter their destinations when matched with deaf drivers.
What we learned
We saw a huge improvement in efficiency when we asked riders to add their destination before pickup. In addition, the destination functionality—first designed specifically to help riders better communicate with deaf drivers—became an essential part of the overall Helix redesign. It was the birth of “Where to?”
Let’s start a conversation
Learning a new language
We’re teaching riders how to sign their name in American Sign Language (ASL). We want to start a new conversation that helps people communicate with someone who they otherwise wouldn’t.
Spelling it out
ASL has a sign for every letter in the alphabet.
When you want to be polite
Think of how many times you’ve said ‘thank you’ to your Uber driver. Now imagine you don’t know how. We wanted to fix that, too.
We first launched these changes in four American cities in August 2015. Today, the program is live in over 300 cities and used by thousands of Uber drivers worldwide.
It’s not everyday you get create a meaningful impact in people’s lives. Building features for Deaf and hard of hearing people has been and continues to be an exciting challenge. It’s important work, and we’d love your help.
One of the most exciting things about design is how working to solve a particular problem can lead to not only a solution to that problem, but broader applications as well. We’ve already discussed how asking riders to enter their destination for Deaf drivers ultimately led to that feature becoming universal in the Uber relaunch. A more surprising example comes from quite a bit further back: 1892, to be exact.
It’s got nothing to do with Uber. It’s all about football.
The invention of the huddle
In 1892, Paul “Eel” Hubbard was quarterback for the football team at Gallaudet College (now University), the first school for the advanced education of the Deaf and hard of hearing in the world. Much to Paul’s frustration, he found that other teams could read the hand signals he used on the field to call plays. He realized that gathering in a circle would prevent such chicanery and the football huddle was born. Other teams around the country soon realized the huddle’s value, and a sportwide institution was born.
From ASL to ESL
In keeping with the tradition of Paul Hubbard and the Gallaudet huddle, we are working not only to improve how Uber works for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, but also to make communication easier for all. As Uber has grown across 700+ cities and 80+ countries, the ability to communicate clearly across language barriers has only gained greater importance.
We continue to tackle tough design challenges and are constantly amazed at all the exciting directions the solutions may lead.
And to all of our Deaf and hard-of-hearing people who have helped and continue to help us make Uber better, we’d just like to say: