Students at the University of Nevada, Reno are well versed in the usage of technology, especially when it comes to popular apps, such as Airbnb. After almost 10 years of service, Airbnb has been recognized as America's fifth most popular travel app and recently bought out a website formerly known as Accomable.
Accomable was a London startup that offered similar services to Airbnb, but focused on providing disability friendly places for users to stay. “Accomable co-founder Srin Madipalli, 31, started the company two years ago after quitting his job as a corporate lawyer and embarking on a five months of travel around the world. He said he repeatedly found that information about wheelchair accessibility at hotels was inaccurate,” according to an article in Fortune Magazine.
Airbnb was founded in 2008 and currently has 4.8 stars and 30.9K ratings on the Apple App Store. The app set up a forum for house owners to continuously rent out their facilities for vacation purposes. Rather than being forced to stay in a hotel, users of the app are able to browse the properties for their desired destination and period of time to plan the perfect trip.
Accomable was a similar platform, but it specialized in providing a place to stay for those who have disabilities. “The deal includes adding to the Airbnb website Accomable’s roughly 1,100 house and apartment listings that can accommodate guests with physical disabilities,” according to Fortune. Buying Accomable signifies that Airbnb recognizes the importance of accommodating the needs of disabled citizens who are going on vacation or planning a business trip. In the past, the disabled were not treated with as much respect and were often forgotten about by businesses. For example, wheelchair ramps were often not as easily accessible as they were needed to be.
Before the 1990s, there were few regulations that protected the interests of disabled Americans. However, this changed with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA ensured that, when it comes to lodging facilities built after 1993, there are rules to ensure that people with any type of disability are able to use an establishment. Some of these rules include modifications such as required handicapped parking, ramps, automatic doors, and handicapped bathroom stalls.
Many hotels claim to have handicap accommodations due to ADA laws, but it is the simple things that are often forgotten. Freshman and kinesiology major, Zane Roberts recently had surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). In general, common tasks have proven to become complicated for him, even in his own home. He said, “People do not realize how hard it is to get into a bathtub, if you are hurt. It can even be difficult to get into a shower. There is a step for my shower, so I have to use my crutches to get myself in there.” For individuals like Zane who have a difficult time maneuvering in their own homes, the idea of a vacation is often thought of as impossible.
Organizing a vacation with a loved one who is disabled may also prove to be difficult. Freshman and economics and international affairs major, Jacob Bourgault said, “My brother is crippled and required a wheelchair for transportation on our family trip to Disneyland. We did not call the hotel ahead of time because our family figured it would have something to work with. Things were inconvenient, but definitely doable.” To avoid inconvenience, Airbnb encourages communication between the homeowners and vacationers. There are even examples of how to approach such conversations on the Airbnb website.
Those inquiring about staying at an individual’s property are able to have direct contact with the owners through messaging within the app. Airbnb has added features for homeowners to name details about disability accommodations within their listings. Homeowners are encouraged to explore their homes for features they already have. Some beneficial things to look for are a well-lit path to the entrance, a lack of steps, or a wide hallway, according to Airbnb.
Before reservations are booked, users may also request certain assistances. According to Airbnb’s Customer Service Team, “Just as you might accommodate a late check-in time or help a guest arrange transportation to the airport, you are expected to accommodate reasonable requests to make your home safe and comfortable for guests with disabilities.”
Airbnb’s protocol to handle reservations that include a disabled individual is similar to how UNR’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) assists students. DRC’s goal for the university is to act as a catalyst for the elimination of both attitudinal and architectural barriers that remain present in the community. Collaboration, creativity, and communication are essential in fulfilling an individual’s needs. Geoff Kattlint, an employee at DRC, said, “We treat everyone on an individual basis, so that everything is case by case.” Airbnb recognizes that disabilities are unique and the importance of communicating with guests about their needs. Both Airbnb and DRC prioritize meeting an individual’s needs.
For students at UNR, not every vacation revolves around booking with Airbnb. The opportunity to study abroad provides new learning opportunities for students, but if a student is disabled, the trip might require some adjustments. According to sophomore business major and University Study Abroad Consortium (USAC) employee, Miranda Ossio-Marin, “People with disabilities are still able to study abroad. However, there are some things they might not be able to do. We work with the onsite staff to help accommodate them.”
Much like the common obstacles that disabled students might face while navigating UNR’s campus, it is expected that other universities will possess similar disadvantages. The student can get in contact with the university they plan to study abroad with and see if changes can be made to make the school experience easier. Kattlint recognized that in some instances, DRC has had to move classes for a student to have easier access.
Everything relates back to the importance of collaboration, creativity, and communication. Airbnb’s efforts to acquire these three qualities will benefit both the company and the app users in the long run.
Individuals with disabilities are often forgotten about when it comes to accessibility, so the fact that a large company such as Airbnb has drawn attention to the matter could create a positive chain reaction. Private businesses and corporations could increase their consumer market if they took disabled individuals into consideration. Airbnb’s actions are some to follow.