I recently took the kids on a weekend trip to visit my folks. And what I learned was awesome and horrible, all at once.

My 81-year-old mother has been diagnosed with macular degeneration. It’s a condition that in her case, has no cure. Having already lost the vision in one eye due to cataracts and glaucoma, she may be completely blind within a year.

Both of my parents lead a very active life. They go to the University for extracurricular Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, aka “Olli” classes. They are constantly learning about history, technology, and many other things. They also enjoy visiting the art museum that opened in 2003, and even have tickets to the performing arts center that is currently under production.

But my mother can’t drive.

She had to give up driving when she went to the grocery store and it rained. The interference in her vision was horrible, and she had to wait out the rain. My dad was at his deep water exercise class and away from his phone, unaware of the terror she was experiencing.

Both of my parents have iPhones and so my brother and his family started to investigate, you guessed it, Uber. Uber has been in my alma mater’s hometown for a couple years now, and there are lots of drivers.

So why isn’t she already using it? She see the map on her phone. She can’t read the make and model of an approaching car. She can’t read the teeny, tiny box where you enter the address.

The app is pretty much useless.

My 12-year-old nephew on a previous visit souped up her iPhone by increasing the font size. But inside an app, it does no good.

So we did a little experience this weekend. While chatting in the living room, I asked “could Siri drive the Uber app?” 

My parents hadn’t even considered this. I got out my phone and started asking, “Siri, find me Uber fare to 901 S. College Street.”

“What kind of Uber do you want?”

“UberX”

“An UberX can be there in seven minutes. Shall I request it?”

“No.”

Wow. I had not seen anything like that. Last time I tried voice integration, it was Dragon Naturally Speaking, and that type of deep integration with apps simply did not exist.

So we devised a little experiment. She and I would travel together to art museum. And I would let her do everything. I tried to minimize helping, because I wanted to see how far she could get.

We hit a major snag. When Siri whistles up an Uber fare, it seems to not (yet) have centered your locator pin on your current location. The driver called us, looking for us, but was five miles away. Thankfully, he had lived there his whole life and was gracious enough to come pick us up.

We then ran into a similar situation trying to order the ride back. It turns out that due to a technical snag on the driver’s end, the same driver happened to be at the art museum when we requested a ride back. 

After getting back, I picked through all the various settings, and vowed to write a “detailed bug report”. And here it is.

  • CRITICAL: To order an Uber from Siri, the app absolutely needs to center the locator pin a la Siri. Asking a near-blind person to open the app and tap the compass icon is too much.
  • CRITICAL: In the privacy settings is a switch to show user’s live location to the driver. This is hidden and hard to find. I spotted some indicator on the map that made is super simple to TURN OFF.
  • NICE TO HAVE: The icon itself for current location was hard to grok as to whether this was on or off. How about internationalized text that reads “ON” and “OFF”.
  • CRITICAL: Find some people with limited vision and spend the money on big time, Apple-grade usability testing. The map is really nice, but there have to be alternatives, like audible readouts on driver’s location.
  • NICE TO HAVE: Short cut button/vocal command thats says “Take me home”.

And here’s the big message for Uber. Do you realize how much MONEY is out there if you built an alternative mode for the app? How many seniors are locked into their homes and can only get out perhaps once a week? How many of these people could lead richer lives if they could tap into ride sharing?

Seniors, if given access to a simpler Uber, would EAT IT UP! They all have at least one friend or family that would them get the app on their phone.

HOT TIP: There are many (not all) seniors that actually have access retirement funds and if it were possible, would love an extra trip or two during the week to get out of the house. Imagine an extra $30/week in fares from who knows how many MILLION of retired seniors you could garner.

I’ve done my part. Now, Uber, it’s time for you to do yours. What ARE you going to do to help my mother?