Researchers have found that Airbnb hosts are more likely to turn people with disabilities away.
This happens even when hosts advertise that their listings are wheelchair-accessible. There are already growing concerns that the travel hosting service may be biased against certain kinds of guests. In fact, Airbnb faced accusations of racial bias just last year. Apparently, hosts turned a disproportionately high number of African-American guests away. Though the service itself of course doesn't condone any kind of discrimination, its hosts seem to be prone to indulging their own biases.
Now, the Airbnb hosts' own actions are showing that they are less likely to pre-approve and more likely to completely reject people with disabilities. The report casts doubt on the ethics of Airbnb as a business and its business model itself.
A study by researchers at Rutgers University analyzed over 3,800 Airbnb requests in 48 states in the US. Hosts refused people with conditions like spinal cord injury, dwarfism, and blindness, and cerebral palsy more often than they refused people without disabilities.
The researchers created fake Airbnb profiles and disclosed different kinds of disabilities to the hosts they contacted. The fake profiles were of 30-something Caucasian males. People that didn't disclose disabilities had a 74.5% approval rate, but researchers found that this approval rate dropped when they disclosed their “disabilities”. According to their findings, there is a 60.9% approval rate for people with dwarfism, 49.7% for blind people, 43.4% for people with cerebral palsy, and 24.8% for people with spinal cord injury.
Airbnb hosts that had wheelchair-accessible properties approved 80% of applicants without disabilities. However, the hosts approved only 59.8% of applicants with spinal cord injury. This is telling of the hosts' biases, since their properties are capable of accommodating people with disabilities.
Lower approval rates aren't the only thing that researchers uncovered. Hosts also send insensitive or even offensive messages to people regarding their disabilities and needs. The researchers also found one host who wanted to charge extra for a service dog. Charging people with disabilities extra fees is against Airbnb's policies.
The researchers think that some of the rejections may simply be a longer gap between preapprovals. A gap may be due to hosts asking potential guests about what they may need. However, even the researchers think that this is a very unlikely explanation. The numbers, after all, are very telling.
Airbnb introduced a new anti-discrimination policy halfway through the study and strongly condemned discrimination. However, the researchers say that the responses from the hosts did not change that much even after the introduction of the new policy. Airbnb can't do much about discrimination if it can't see its hosts doing it.
Also, the very design of Airbnb's platform partly makes discrimination possible. However, the service has now made some changes to the site that makes it easier for guests to navigate. Airbnb hosts now have access to tools that can help them make their listings more detailed. These tools indicate the accessibility of the listings, which can thus help people with disabilities select an appropriate listing.
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