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Study Says Airbnb Hosts More Likely to Reject Guests With a Disability

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A recent study conducted by Rutgers University found that Airbnb rentals are often inaccessible to people with disabilities, and that lack of accessibility has little to do with any physical barriers that space might have. Airbnb is a service that allows hosts to offer their own homes and properties as temporary accommodations for travelers. After a traveler requests to stay, the host can either approve or reject them as a guest.

As part of the study, researchers analyzed nearly 4,000 accommodation requests submitted between June and November 2016 made by people with four different types of disabilities: blindness, cerebral palsy, dwarfism and spinal cord injuries.

They found that the preapproval rate — the rate at which guests were initially approved — for travelers without disabilities was 75 percent. However, those ratings fell when a traveler would disclose a disability. For those with dwarfism the preapproval rating was 61 percent; blindness, 50 percent; cerebral palsy, 43 percent and spinal cord injuries, 25 percent.

The Rutgers study also examined reasons hosts gave when rejecting prospective travelers with disabilities. One host responding to a traveler with cerebral palsy said, “Our place has a very narrow and circular stairway, so it would be too difficult for you.” Another host told a traveler with dwarfism “Unfortunately our home was designed for my 6’4 grandpa and I’m afraid many of our amenities are positioned higher up.”

Hosts were often unwilling to accommodate guide dogs for travelers with blindness, giving comments such as “Sorry I can’t have pets up there everything is new” or “We have a dog on the property which would be a problem.”

Some hosts approved blind travelers with guide dogs, but not without charging them additional fees. One host told a traveler “I do not normally allow animals but if you are willing to pay an additional 100 dollars for animal cleaning I would be ok with it.” Another commented that “There is a non-refundable pet fee of $25 (cash preferred) due upon check in… One of the house rules is to clean up after your pets using the available dog doodoo bags. If we have to clean the yard of dog messes, an additional fee will be applied.”

While some hosts were in clear violation of Airbnb’s policies, others worked to accommodate travelers with disabilities. One host responded to a traveler with a spinal cord injury letting them know about accessibility barriers and offering a solution, “We do have 2 steps up to our front porch but we’d be happy to assist you.” While another responded to a traveler with blindness saying, “You would be my first blind guest. Is there anything that I would need to do to make the apartment more accessible?”

In response to hosts’ discriminatory behavior, however, some travelers and people with disabilities have expressed their dissatisfaction with the service, hoping that Airbnb will improve its policies.

In an effort to abide by its foundational principles of inclusion and respect, Airbnb stated it is “committed to making sure everyone — including people of all abilities — can find and book travel experiences they love.” To help achieve that goal, Airbnb has been working with groups and organizations for people with disabilities to make its platform more accessible.

Airbnb is working with the SSB BART Group, an accessibility consulting firm, to make its website and app more disability-friendly for visually-impaired travelers. It is also working with the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers to develop new technology which will allow hosts to describe their listings’ accessibility features in more detail. Airbnb hopes this will, in turn, help travelers find listings that fit their needs.

In its post, Airbnb states it finds discriminating against people with disabilities to be “abhorrent,” as well as a violation of its non-discrimination policy. “At Airbnb, we believe in a world where anyone can belong anywhere,” the company wrote. “We will continue to do more as we seek to meet our goal of building a community that is open and accessible to everyone.”

Thinkstock image via Halfpoint.

Originally published: June 5, 2017
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