An interesting discussion has begun on the professional networking channel of LinkedIn following a post by an Americans’ with Disability Acts (ADA) consultant who asked for thoughts on an Airbnb listing. The property - as shown in the photograph was highlighted as not having good access to the ramp, having no handrails on the ramp and obstructions placed on the ramp; this before anyone even got inside!
However, what followed was some interesting comment which highlighted the differences in opinion from across the world about the definition of accessibility and universal design. Srin Madipalli who himself is a wheelchair user and a Product Manager at Airbnb replied to the post stating: “[O]ur approach with accessibility is to never ‘promote’ a listing as ‘accessible’, but instead to do our best to make sure hosts add as much information as possible to ensure that a guest can decide whether a home works for them.”
Srin has worked with many disabled groups across the world in order to fine-tune the offering of Airbnb and feels it is impossible to audit every single listing contained within the database. Nonetheless, this still leaves a personal judgement of single untrained individuals to market their home to a specialised marketplace.
In contrast, other access consultants from across the world who joined the conversation felt that the home in question may just well be accessible enough for a family, who were happy with a ramp as an alternative to steps. With one consultant pointing out that often the bar set for accessibility is often too high and misses those who have lesser needs.
Srin openly and positively admits that there is still more to do and the employment of extra UX researchers who have a (dis)ability is a key factor in resolving the issue. With the discussion on-going, the general consensus was that information and photographs were an essential part of the process. Items such as heights of beds and lavatories, accompanied by widths of doorways etc formed a much better alternative than a set of symbols depicting access.
Airbnb certainly adopts a comprehensive list of filters when searching for accessible homes, this proved useful when we booked a trip for 2019. This is a much stronger alternative to the hotel industry who continue to pay lip service to accessibility and offer very little information to their guests with a disability. That said a follow-up email to the host requesting information to confirm the suitability of their property has not been acknowledged or responded to in the three weeks since it was sent.
The real test will be the response from users as the network grows and more accessible homes are used by people with disabilities who are beginning to travel in much larger numbers than ever before.