SINGAPORE: As a food delivery rider, Ms Juni Syafiqa Jumat, who has cerebral palsy, has had her fair share of negative experiences with customers.
She recalled an incident more than 10 months ago, when she was working with Deliveroo, where a customer had refused to pick up his food as she had taken longer than his lunch hour to deliver it.
“My delivery was from Suntec City to Clarke Quay. So I must take MRT. By the time I reached the office, (I was late for) almost half an hour. So they said their lunch time has finished,” she said.
She shared that if she gets orders that are too far, she will not take the job. Due to the finite battery life in her wheelchair, she cannot travel for too long.
Her worry about delivery timing and customer satisfaction was common among riders with disabilities CNA interviewed.
“Customers want me to go fast to send the food to them, or sometimes when (it rains), there will be delays,” said foodpanda delivery rider Benjamin Lee, who lost his left leg six years ago.
He added that sometimes when he is late, “customers will keep calling”, even though he might be unable to pick up while he is riding.
Deliveroo rider Saire Adnan, who is an amputee, recounted similar experiences.
“Sometimes, when I (deliver) food, the customer will ask me to come faster. (When I say I have) a disability, sometimes the customer is okay, sometimes the customer is not okay,” he said.
He said that while most customers are understanding once they are aware of his disability, some would cancel the order if made to wait too long.
While he is generally happy with the level of protection Deliveroo offers to riders with disabilities, he hopes that the company can “give (him) extra time, especially when it’s raining”.
For the three food delivery companies that CNA reached out to, people with disabilities make up a small minority of the riders they employ.
Foodpanda employs about 60 riders with disabilities, or about 1 per cent of their fleet, while GrabFood employs about 20 riders with physical disabilities out of a fleet of 13,000. Deliveroo, which has 6,000 riders in total, said that it does not collect information on riders’ disabilities.
Customers of food delivery apps appear to be mostly concerned about the riders’ physical safety.
“I just worry that disabled delivery drivers get mistreated by those who order food because they were ignorant or unaware of their disability.
“I also worry if there is a higher probably of getting into accidents on the road,” said student Michelle Lai.
She said she has no problem with companies hiring riders with disabilities to deliver food as long as they can deliver food on time and in good condition, and are polite and friendly.
Mr Joshua Lim, 25, said he “would not be pleased at any late delivery", but he would "give the rider the benefit of the doubt, disabled or otherwise".
Disability associations also cited safety and accessibility as key difficulties facing such riders.
According to executive director Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), there had been an increase in the number of people with disabilities working in food delivery, although DPA was unable to provide an estimate on an exact number.
She attributes the popularity of food delivery jobs to the flexible working arrangements of these companies.
Despite the benefits of having a flexible schedule for people with disabilities, Dr Medjeral-Mills noted several issues for food delivery companies who hire riders with disabilities.
“When we talk about needs of people with disabilities, we would like to know if in safety trainings provided by delivery operators, are delivery staff with disabilities taken into account?
“When planning emergency procedures for delivery staff, are accessibility features built into the app?” she said.
Foodpanda managing director Luc Andreani said that it conducts interviews with potential riders with disabilities to ensure that they will be able to carry out their tasks, and has a fleet manager keep in close contact with the rider during their initial shifts to make sure everything runs smoothly.
"We’ve implemented an additional onboarding process for our riders with disabilities, to ensure that they are aware of safety measures and precautions when they are on shift," he added.
Each interview is personalised, said Mr Andreani, as the fleet manager would assess if the rider was able to carry out his key tasks, which includes navigating the mobile app and the rider's ability to deliver food within a certain time frame.
Deliveroo said that it provides its own road safety education and conducts Safe Riding Programmes for all riders in conjunction with the Land Transport Authority.
In addition, GrabFood is looking into several new measures aimed at easing the burden on riders with disabilities, such as assigning riders to jobs with shorter distances and wheelchair-friendly locations, and to indicate their disability on the app for merchants and customers.
Local charity SPD, who works with people with disabilities to help integrate them into mainstream society, hopes that employers would be more understanding towards riders with disabilities.
Jobseekers with disabilities could face a lack of understanding by employers, who may also struggle with managing employees with disabilities when there is mismatch of expectations in terms of performance, said SPD CEO Abhimanyau Pal.
For this, both foodpanda and GrabFood have dedicated channels for riders with disabilities to reach out if they need help. This includes Telegram chats, phone hotlines, in-app help centres, and a dedicated rider website.
All three companies said that disabilities did not factor into whether they would partner up with a particular rider.
For Deliveroo, as long as the rider has the appropriate licence for their vehicle, and possesses a working smartphone, they would be open to working with the rider.
Similarly, GrabFood said that they do not see any significant differences in service quality standards between GrabFood riders with and without physical disabilities.
A spokesperson said that GrabFood would hire all riders as long as they pass a mandatory training process, which is usually done online.
Ultimately, for riders like Ms Syafiqa, it is the ability to work that is the most empowering for her.
"We are given equal opportunities to earn our own living, just like any other delivery-partner ... I am thankful for a job that allows me to earn money while doing something that I like," she said.