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An Alarming Study Shows Airbnb Hosts Are Far More Likely To Reject Guests With Disabilities

by Penn Collins

June 9, 2017

The disability gaps in preapprovals for travelers with cerebral palsy or spinal cord injury appear to be smaller, but not eliminated among listings advertised as “wheelchair accessible,” although the power of the comparisons is limited by the small number of hosts in this group.Traveling with a disability is a hardship that many of us never face, but for those that do, the process can require far more planning and struggle. While many hotels both domestic and abroad, are held to standards that ensure facilities and access for the disabled, the rise of Airbnb short-term rentals complicates matters for disabled guests looking to book on such platforms. 

Private residences aren’t subject to the same design standards with disabled guests in mind, so when booking, many such users will reach out with questions that pertain to their needs in the accommodations. 

When disabled guests ask these questions prior to booking, a newly released Rutgers University study finds that they are significantly less likely to be pre-approved by the hosts to stay in their homes. The study of 3,800 booking requests reveals that likelihood of pre-approval varies significantly with the disability being shared. 

From The New York Times

Hosts granted preapproval to 75 percent of travelers who made no mention of a disability, according to the study. That rate fell to 61 percent for those who said they had dwarfism, 50 percent for those with blindness, 43 percent for those with cerebral palsy, and just 25 percent for those with spinal cord injuries.

While those differences initially appear staggering, the discrepancies are somewhat overrepresented in instances when the host responds with follow-up questions, before eventually granting approval or a later preapproval. It’s also likely that some of the rejections may be due to the fact that the host’s offering cannot accommodate a person due to its situation, design, or layout. 

The latter possibility has been acknowledged by those questioning the study’s methodology.

Nonetheless, even listings featuring wheelchair accessibility were more likely to turn away disabled candidates, albeit at a smaller rate than those that didn’t. The study states: 

The disability gaps in preapprovals for travelers with cerebral palsy or spinal cord injury appear to be smaller, but not eliminated, among listings advertised as ‘wheelchair accessible,’ although the power of the comparisons is limited by the small number of hosts in this group.

A number of issues and questions arise from these findings. The most obvious of which are the individual instances of discrimination that may be represented in these aggregate findings. But of equal importance is the outsourcing or standards, practices, and judgment made by unlicensed individuals, not only platforms like Airbnb, but on ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft as well. 

The decentralization of policy on these platforms, despite corporate-issued guidelines for the hosts, threatens to circumvent or undo much of the work that’s been done by activists for the disabled over decades. 

Mason Ameri, one of the study’s authors, warns, “If we’re entering an era where these new types of hotels, which are essentially private homes, can’t offer accommodations, it defeats and undoes all of the progress we’ve made with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) as far as equal access is concerned.”

The study also revealed that Airbnb’s policy regarding discrimination, which was revised in September during the six-month study duration, had no significant effect on rates of rejection for disabled guests. Given that the study reveals Airbnb’s guidelines have had little impact, many disabled travelers are turning to more specific sites such as Accomable, which offers accessible listings in a similar fashion. 

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An Alarming Study Shows Airbnb Hosts Are Far More Likely To Reject Guests With Disabilities