Airbnb’s commitment to accessibility and what it means for people with disabilities

Waiting for new technologies to include the disabled community is like waiting for a great PlayStation or Xbox game to be ported to PC. At some point you give up until years later when you are delightfully surprised and grateful for something you thought would never happen. That’s what it’s been like waiting for online marketplaces that offer the “sharing economy” to include accessible short-term lodging.

The problem up until now wasn’t that there were not any accessible short-term lodging options in these marketplaces. The problem was determining which ones were accessible and which were not. A disabled person cannot book their vacation’s accommodations based on hope that it will all work out; it rarely does. Enter Airbnb to the rescue.

I learned about Airbnb in its early years, mid 2010, but was disappointed to find that it was not possible to determine if the place was wheelchair accessible.  The excitement over discovering the hospitality service quickly faded. Today, I discovered that has recently changed.

On March 15, 2018, Airbnb announced new features and accessibility filters for people with disabilities. The discovery of these new features and filters breeds a sort of freedom. The kind of freedom one experiences when they regain mobility using a wheelchair for the first time after an injury. The kind of freedom when one gets adaptive hand controls and gets their license back. The kind of freedom money provides in this world.

This new option for travelers with disabilities opens the door to lower-cost options and unique experiences. Two characteristics that are usually mutually exclusive. With that said, I’m excited to see how Airbnb plays into my next accessible vacation.

Disability Life

It Rained Today

It rained today. I like rain. Most people I know dread an overcast rainy day. I’ve given some thought throughout today as to why I like overcast days. It’s not something I’ve experienced my whole life. When I was younger, I often saw rain interfering with fun activities in my life.

Two reasons came to mind today. The first is a memory. The second is a bit more complex.

Just prior to my accident in 2001 that left me a quadriplegic, I spent six months living and working in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I rented a flat about a mile away from the office. I walked to and from work every day. And every day I found the sidewalks wet. Dry pavement on my way to work was a rarity.

I had two CDs that I would alternate from week to week and listen to on my way to work. After a month, I started judging my pace based on where a song would start and where I was on my walk. I found walking to and from work, and everywhere else, in Belfast extremely pleasurable.

Nowadays, every once in a while I experience a dream that relives that walk. Come morning, I wake with quite a bit of nostalgia. I believe I associate rain and overcast days with my time in Belfast.

For the second reason, I think it has something to do with how much time I spend indoors compared to when I was an able-bodied person. Most of my activities don’t revolve around the outdoors so rain can’t spoil the fun.

When it rains everyone tries to avoid going outside. Perhaps, in an odd way, I feel more included with the rest of the world. Not because I avoid going outside, but because outside doesn’t represent the able-bodied activities of my youth anymore.

When it rains people don’t play outside. They don’t shoot hoops. They don’t kick the soccer ball around. They don’t rollerblade. They don’t bike.


Back in the Saddle Again

It has been a good start to 2016. After two years, I was able to get my minivan modified so that I can drive it from my wheelchair. It allows me to meet with my clients and seek new business. It’s not my first adapted car I’ve had, but my last one was starting to interfere with my independence. Age is a bitch, whether you’re a human or an automobile.

The new van is everything you would expect. And more. However, when I drove it for the first time I experienced some serious jitters.

At first I thought the jitters were a result of the new minivan being more powerful than my last. Then I thought it was a result of some of the adaptations being slightly different than my previous set up. It was holding me back and killing my confidence as a driver. It wasn’t until a week and a half ago that I discovered the real cause.

My van is heavily adapted for me to drive. People often ask how much it cost to get modified and I include in my response that it is the most expensive soccer mom mobile they have ever seen.  Disability can be very expensive.

With all the adaptations in the van, I never considered that an adaptation on my wheelchair was the root cause. One night as I was getting out of my wheelchair, I noticed that a chest strap to hold me securely while driving was hanging in a way that caught my eye.

It’s not a simple strap. In a way, it resembles a figure eight when it is in use. One portion of the figure eight goes around the back rest of the wheelchair and the other part of the figure eight goes around my chest. The arrangement allows for a snug fit. But not if it’s loose.

The following morning, I asked my personal care attendant to tighten the loose strap that went around the back rest of the wheelchair. After she tightened 6 inches I realized I was going to have a glorious day.

Since that day, I have driven much. My torso no longer moves around while I drive. I now have a solid foundation from which to drive from.

Before, I felt like I was on a dock in rough seas.

Each time I drive I can’t help but hear Aerosmith’s song Back in the Saddle Again playing in my head. I’m reminded of the fact, if you don’t have a solid foundation it is difficult to move forward.