Airbnb Executive Suzanne Edwards Talks Adapted Category, Accessible Travel Tips, More In New Interview


One of the most frequent questions I get from readers and colleagues is about which companies I think are doing right by accessibility. The usual answers apply—Apple, Google, Microsoft, amongst others—are examples of companies with the resources (and commensurate deep pockets) to routinely invest in building best-of-breed accessibility software. Another example is Airbnb, whose work in this realm flies under the radar for the most part. Beyond its app and website, accessibility isn’t conventionally associated with a hospitality company. The reality is the accessibility of the physical world matters as much to Airbnb as its digital presence.

In a blog post published last week, the San Francisco-based company shared tips for making travel to everyone, as well as shared updates on its Adapted category that it launched last year. The category, which enables prospective guests to search for homes with, say, step-free entryways, has been searched more than 5 million times and boasts over 1,100 listings worldwide, according to Airbnb. Additionally, Suzanne Edwards, Airbnb’s head of accessibility hosting standards, shared a smattering of tips for guests and hosts alike in order to make travel more accessible—and more enjoyable. She recommended reaching out to hosts, reading reviews, including photos in listings, and more.

In a new interview with me conducted this week via videoconference, Edwards explained the Adapted category, which features are verified through a partnership with Matterport, is a “really great source of inspiration for people with mobility needs to hopefully find something that will that will work for them.” She pointed to the aforementioned statistic about the millions of searches, saying adaptive travel needs is something that’s “clearly in demand” from the company’s users.

Edwards said Airbnb has a “really great relationship” with its hosts, telling me the company has made concerted efforts throughout the year to talk to them through community events and other places. In an accessibility context, Edwards said hosts are ready and willing to make accommodations to their homes to make disabled guests feel included and welcome. Choice, she said, is a big part of the Adapted category because it’s a reflection of individual tastes. “We want to find somewhere [to stay] that’s not just functional for our needs, but it’s somewhere that’s in line with our tastes and our preferences,” Edwards said.

All told, Edwards told me accessibility has been, and always will be, one of Airbnb’s main priorities. Accessibility is evergreen, with Edwards saying the company will always work earnestly in this arena because “it’s the core of our business and it’s something that’s hugely important to this [disability] community.” She added with over a billion people on the planet identifying with some sort of disability, there’s always room for more supply to meet the demands of those with disabilities. Relatedly, this virtually unlimited opportunity means Airbnb has a long runway on which to further innovate. Edwards said one way the company can do this going forward is by encouraging others in the travel and hospitality industries to embrace accessibility and inclusivity. In a nutshell, Airbnb realizes it cannot, and should not, stand alone in amplifying accessibility.

“It’s really important to us to continue to make waves and keep the conversation going [on accessibility] that people realize how important this [disability] community is and serving their needs is hugely important,” Edwards said of Airbnb’s ethos around accessibility. “It’s something we really prioritize as a company, and I’m very proud of the work we do to continue to prioritize it. Myself and the rest of the team, [we] will always keep pushing for this internally and keep raising the bar and thinking about how we can improve our product and improve the experience for guests with disabilities and also for our host community.”

Airbnb’s latest post is similarly spirited to a post it wrote in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day back in mid-May. That news was covered for this column, which featured a statement provided to me from Edwards’ colleague in global head of hosting Catherine Powell.

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