Airbnb has sometimes come under fire for lack of access for travelers with disabilities. The home-stay company says it wants to do better. So it’s buying Accomable, a London company that arranges vacation stays in private homes that have verified accessibility features.

“We want to help create new policies and procedures for vetting Airbnb properties, to make sure an Airbnb customer with accessibility needs can trust its offerings the same way they’d trust an Accomable listing,” said Srin Madipalli, 31, Accomable CEO. An inveterate traveler and wheelchair user, he co-founded the London company two years ago after encountering many obstacles with accommodations during his globe-trotting.

Madipalli, who holds an MBA from Oxford and previously was a corporate lawyer, will move to San Francisco to take on the new role of accessibility product manager at Airbnb. Four other Accomable employees (out of six total) will also join Airbnb. The company, which had raised about half a million dollars in backing from investors, had about 1,100 listings, mainly in Europe. Those will be folded into the Airbnb site.

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“What really excites us is this is a chance to reach millions and millions of people,” Madipalli said.

Many of the hosts on Accomable are themselves people with disabilities or have a family member with a disability and have retrofitted their homes with features such as ramps and roll-in showers. The site has a stringent vetting process, requiring photographs or videos of every accessible feature so it can verify that travelers have the access they need.

Airbnb said that it has been working on new accessibility checklists for hosts about features such as step-free entry to rooms and doorways wide enough for wheelchairs. In June, a Rutgers study found that Airbnb hosts often rejected people with disabilities, even when their lodgings were advertised as wheelchair-accessible.

“While we have rules that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and an Open Doors policy that helps ensure everyone can find a place to stay, it’s clear that we can do more to effectively serve people with disabilities,” Airbnb said in a blog post on Thursday. “We’ve had insightful and humbling conversations with travelers and disability advocacy groups where we heard stories, gained perspective and learned what we can do better.”

© 2017 San Francisco Chronicle
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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