Airbnb acquires UK startup Accomable, to improve lodgings for disabled guests
Airbnb has made quite the name for itself turning the stress of finding affordable accommodation abroad into a worry-free doddle. But, like many tech companies, the draw of delivering simple solutions to first-world problems saw accessibility taking a backseat. While Airbnb has a filter that allows travellers to search for homes that have been labelled ‘wheelchair-accessible’, Airbnb hosts often provide information that is inaccurate. Just imagine getting to a house in the middle of Phuket, only to find out it’s not as wheelchair-accessible as advertised. With that kind of nightmare scenario in mind, Airbnb has acquired British startup, Accomable: a resource dedicated to assisting disabled travellers.
The London-based company was started in 2015 by a former corporate lawyer, Srin Madipalli and his childhood friend Martyn Sibley, who both have muscular dystrophy. After getting increasingly frustrated by the inaccuracy of information on hotel accessibility, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
“Anyone can belong anywhere”
“You’d turn up to places and the shower was tiny or there was a step to get in. It’s just really humiliating,” Madipalli told the BBC.
The Accomable website works in a similar way to Airbnb, but instead only shows rooms that have accessibility features, like step-free access and wide entryways.
“Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere and that includes travellers with disabilities,” Airbnb said in a press release. “While we have rules that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and an Open Doors policy that helps ensure everyone can find a place to stay, it’s clear that we can do more to effectively serve people with disabilities.”
The UK-based team at Accomable will be flown into Airbnb’s base at San Francisco to build on work already started by the company. Their listings will be integrated into the Airbnb website as Accomable is wound down.
Along with Accomable’s eventual integration, Airbnb has been working on accessibility features and improvements itself.
The company’s “new features allow hosts to designate whether their listings have step-free entry to rooms, entryways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and more. The features help hosts be descriptive about their home’s accessibility and give guests the clear information they need to find the right home for them,” they continued.
However, while these features are likely to improve options for filtering, this might not address some of the underlying issues that disabled travellers face when using Airbnb.
In a study published earlier this year, researchers from Rutgers University found that disabled guests were more likely to be rejected by Airbnb hosts if they disclosed their disability.
Hosts on Airbnb approved 75% of users who did not disclose a disability, but only accepted 50% of users who said they were blind, 61% who said they had dwarfism, 43% with cerebral palsy and only 25% with a spinal cord injury.
Hopefully, Airbnb’s new descriptive features will have a positive impact on disabled guests, and the company’s effort to improve on accessibility by acquiring Accomable and including more checklists for hosts will surely help. The new features are currently being rolled out to Airbnb’s web platform and will allow guests to search for rooms that fit their requirements. An update to the iOS and Android apps will follow in the next few months.