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Airbnb takes a big step towards inclusiveness with accessibility filters for disabled people

When one of the world's most valued start-ups announces major changes to accommodate people with disabilities, it is time to take notice.

Airbnb's decision to add 21 accessibility filters to make it easier for people with disabilities to find accommodations that suit their needs is big news indeed.

The accessibility filters Airbnb has added will enable travellers with disabilities to find accommodations that have doorways wide enough to allow a wheelchair to pass through, step-free entry to rooms, elevators, roll-in showers with a chair, accessible height bed, to name just a few.

Collaborative effort

The new filters allow Airbnb guests to search for listings with these specific features. Earlier, guests on Airbnb were able to search for wheelchair accessible listings only. These were not always enough to meet the individual needs of travellers with disabilities.

The introduction of these new filters is among a series of steps Airbnb is taking to ensure accessibility for all. In 2017, Airbnb acquired Accomable, the London-based accessible travel start-up founded by Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley.

In 2017, Airbnb started collaborating with the California Council of the Blind, California Foundation for Independent Living Centres and National Council on Independent Living to develop the accessibility filters, and to improve and clarify its accessibility policies. I joined Airbnb last November, when Accomable, the accessible travel start-up I co-founded in London, was acquired by Airbnb. Since then I've been sharing my expertise with a dedicated team to make our platform as accessible as possible - Srin Madipalli, Accessibility Product & Program Manager, Airbnb

Madipalli, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, says Airbnb has worked with the disabled community closely to test the new accessibility filters. Something Airbnb will do on a regular basis with hosts and guests to ensure they work for travellers with disabilities.

Community-based approach

There are many obvious challenges for accessibility in terms of infrastructure in old or developing destinations. The new accessibility filters will help people with disabilities figure out if a home or a holiday experience will meet their specific needs.

As a disabled person, I love to travel, but I found the logistics of planning trips incredibly difficult, as you need to make sure you carefully plan every detail. However, I do think this is changing, particularly with the rise of technology, as it's easier to access information online, and people can instantly share tips and advice on accessible travel - Srin Madipalli, Accessibility Product & Program Manager, Airbnb

This community-led approach, believes Madipalli, will help people with disabilities become more confident about accessible travel, be it staying in homes to enjoying local experiences.

Its a welcome sign of the growing recognition of the huge market potential of accessible travel, believes Neha Arora, founder of Planet Abled, which offers accessible travel solutions for disabled people. In India, the segment of people looking at assisted travel is estimated to be growing by 15% year-on-year, by analysts. The bulk of them are senior citizens.

There is a huge market potential and the acquiring of Accomable proves that big companies like Airbnb are realizing it want to cater to it - Neha Arora, Founder Planet Abled

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities promotes the participation of disabled people in leisure and sport as a matter of right. High time the travel industry woke up to the untapped potential of this market!

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