No room at Airbnb for the disabled

Emily AceSouth Western Times

Bunbury professor Kathy Boxall wants to know if there will be a place for disabled guests in the “new world of holiday accommodation” after research by Edith Cowan University showed the sharing economy was “largely excluding” them.

The research showed the lack of regulation for sharing sites such as Airbnb meant it had no obligation to cater for users and guests with additional needs.

“In recent decades, social inclusion has been fostered through legislation aimed at supporting the right of disabled people to access mainstream facilities and activities,” Dr Boxall said.

“As a result, hotels are required to have a proportion of rooms which are accessible to disabled guests, but many of the rooms offered through online platforms such as Airbnb are in people’s own homes, which are exempt from disability access legislation.”

Despite the introduction of new filters which allow users to search for accessible accommodation, the researchers’ search of Margaret River came back with no Airbnb options in 2018, consistent with findings in 2016.

Dr Boxall said it also suggested a “significant gap in the market” investors could take advantage of, with disabled tourists’ annual national spend estimated between $8 billion and $10.8 billion.

Australia’s South West CEO Catrin Allsop said it would be a “positive step forward” if home sharing sites “considered the benefits for people with disabilities, who make up a large percentage of tourist numbers”.

“It’s important everyone can access and enjoy the South West and that starts by providing the right amenities for all,” she said.

“By making our region disability friendly, we’re able to share it further, so we believe there’s always more that can be done in building a safe and easily accessible destination.”

Enable South West chief executive officer Rob Holmes said while it was a “harder nut to crack” he hoped if owners made the effort to modify their homes, it would be strongly supported by people with disabilities – encouraging others to follow their lead.

“If people were more aware of organisations like TADWA who can make those sorts of changes, and if they can be done at a fair and reasonable price, that might also encourage people to make their places more accessible,” he said.

“It would be nice to think that people with disabilities would be able to get out there and enjoy the opportunities that outfits like Airbnb offer.”

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