Airbnb takes steps to welcome travelers with disabilities

In response to complaints that its platform isn’t always accommodating of guests with disabilities, Airbnb on Thursday revealed new steps to address that problem.

The San Francisco-based home-sharing company has acquired Accomable, a London-based home-sharing site that caters specifically to disabled travelers. (I previously wrote about Accomable for The Mercury News here.)

Accomable was founded in 2015 by Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley — frequent travelers with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who became frustrated with the lack of accessible accommodations. The company will wind down its platform and integrate its home listings into Airbnb, providing accessible homes in more than 60 countries.

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Previously Airbnb identified only properties that are “wheelchair accessible,” which, after talks with travelers and groups like the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and the California Council of the Blind, Airbnb leaders realized wasn’t good enough.

Going forward, Airbnb will let guests search for the specific accessibility accommodations they require, and will let hosts specify whether their homes have step-free entries into rooms, wide doorways, and other attributes.

Airbnb also is making its platform easier to use for people with visual impairments — making changes such as eliminating text over images, which can be hard to read.

“All of these improvements are important, but they alone aren’t the solution: they are the start of an ongoing conversation and we’re committed to doing more,” the company wrote in a news release announcing the changes. “We’re looking forward to implementing quicker and easier ways for hosts to update their homes’ accessibility information, and hope to increase guests’ confidence that these homes will fit their needs. And we’ll continue to do all we can to ensure our platform and our community are open and accessible to everyone.”

Airbnb isn’t the only startup offering on-demand services that has struggled to accommodate disabled users. Uber last year was forced to make changes to its policies after a lawsuit accused the ride-hailing company of discriminating against blind passengers with service dogs.

Photo: Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks during an event in San Francisco on April 19, 2016. (Jeff Chiu/AP)




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