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People with disabilities excluded from sharing economy
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The sharing economy is largely excluding people with disabilities, new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has found.

While Uber, Airbnb and other innovations are designed for convenience, lack of regulation means they have 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,” said Professor Kathy Boxall from ECU’s School of Arts and Humanities (Bunbury campus).

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.

“This raises a broader question of whether or not there will be a place for disabled guests in the new world of holiday accommodation shaped by the sharing economy.”

The researchers point out that features such as wheelchair ramps and lifts allow individuals to be less disabled, but being socially excluded from experiences and amenities exacerbates their experience of disability.

No rooms in Margaret River and a radical idea

In late 2017, Airbnb acquired the UK-created app Accomable, which caters for disabled travellers, but this has not increased supply.

Despite the introduction of new filters which allow users to search for accessible accommodation, the researchers’ search of Margaret River – which caters to over one-million tourists annually – came back with no Airbnb options in 2018.

This is consistent with their earlier findings from 2016 when they were unable to find any rooms with disability access in the region on Airbnb.

This points to a larger issue, one in which consideration of people with disabilities always seems to be an inconvenient add-on.

“We found it impossible to imagine a utopian version of Airbnb, fully inclusive of disabled people, which exists within a society that does not itself indorse full social inclusion,” Professor Boxall said.

As such, addressing the holiday accommodation problem may require addressing accessibility more broadly – perhaps with government regulation requiring all new housing to have basic disability access.

The researchers note this radical idea would benefit Australia’s ageing population too.

An untapped market

While the lack of accessible holiday accommodation options is a problem, it also suggests a significant gap in the market that wise investors could take advantage of in the short term.

A 2017 Tourism Research Australia study estimated disabled tourists’ annual spend to be between AUS$8 and AUS$10.8 billion, while a 2015 study indicated that guests with disabilities would like to increase their holiday frequency.

“Disabled guests expect the same experiences as non-disabled guests and taking holidays has been found to contribute positively to their quality of life,” Professor Boxall said.

‘Disability, hospitality and the new sharing economy’ by Kathy Boxall, Julie Nyanjom and Janine Slaven is published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.

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