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Airbnb hosts reject guests with disabilities more often, researchers say

Airbnb hosts reject guests with disabilities more often, researchers say

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Airbnb hosts have already been found to discriminate against guests with "black-sounding" names, and now it sounds like host discrimination extends to guests with disabilities as well.

A study by researchers at Rutgers, highlighted in The New York Times today, found that guests who disclose a disability are less likely to be approved for a room and more likely to be outright rejected.

Guests who didn’t disclose a disability received “pre-approval” from an Airbnb host 74.5 percent of the time. But that number dipped sharply for guests who disclosed a disability. A person with dwarfism had a 60.9 percent approval rate, and a person who was blind had a 49.7 percent approval rate.

Discrimination is prohibited, but Airbnb doesn’t have a clear way to stop it

Those figures dipped further for guests with cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries, falling to just 43.4 percent and 24.8 percent, respectively.

The researchers said that some of the gap between pre-approvals could be explained by hosts stopping to ask questions about what accommodations a guest will need.

But the researchers believe that doesn’t explain everything. If you look at outright rejections, there’s a clear difference: guests without disabilities were only rejected 16.8 percent of the time, while guests with the four disabilities the researchers studied were rejected anywhere from 20.1 percent of the time for guests with dwarfism, to 59.8 percent of the time for guests with spinal cord injuries.

The study was conducted over the course of six months, with more than 3,800 booking requests being made across the United States’ 48 contiguous states. All guests were given profile pictures depicting white men around 30 years old.

Halfway through the study, Airbnb introduced new anti-discrimination policies that guests were required to agree to. But the researchers say responses “did not vary significantly” even once the new policy was in place.

In a response first provided to the Times, Airbnb said that most bookings on its platform are made through the Instant Book feature, which doesn’t require host approval. It also said, “discrimination of any kind on the Airbnb platform, including on the basis of ability, is abhorrent, a violation of our anti-discrimination policy, and will result in permanent removal from our platform.”

It’s a strong comment, but it doesn’t mean much if Airbnb can’t actually spot discrimination and if the discrimination is rooted, in part, in how Airbnb’s platform is designed. Airbnb has begun releasing more detailed tools for hosts to let them better indicate the accessibility of their listings, which could help prospective guests browsing the site. Those tools have rolled out to half of all hosts so far and will expand to guests this summer.

Airbnb also says it’s already following some of the suggestions to resolve discrimination made by the authors of this study, including educating hosts on Americans with Disabilities Act standards.