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Study suggests Airbnb hosts are unfair to people with disabilities

But there are some caveats, including no consideration of instant booking and a lack of peer review.
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LIONEL BONAVENTURE via Getty Images

A recent study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University found evidence that Airbnb hosts might be less likely to rent to people with disabilities. But there are some important limitations to consider in regards to the findings.

The researchers created fake profiles with pictures of white men around 30 years of age and messaged nearly 4,000 Airbnb listings across the country. When inquiring about the host's listing, some of the "renters" would ask if the unit was accessible to one of four disabilities: blindness, dwarfism, cerebral palsy or a spinal cord injury.

Profiles that didn't ask about disability accommodation received preapproval almost 75 percent of the time, while those with a disability were preapproved at significantly lower rates ranging from 61 percent for dwarfism down to just 25 percent for those with a spinal cord injury. However, if a host followed the request up with questions before making the approval, it wasn't classified as preapproved, which the researchers noted could explain some of the gaps in pre-approval rates.

Additionally, for every disability except dwarfism, profiles were more likely to be rejected compared to profiles with no disability. The study also found that units listed as wheelchair accessible were still less likely to preapprove individuals with blindness and spinal cord injury and more likely to reject those with blindness.

There are some limitations to the study, however. First, they did not take instant booking into account, which Airbnb says accounts for 60 percent of their reservations. And the study only used white male profiles, meaning compounding factors of race and gender weren't measured. Finally, the study has not yet been submitted to a journal and subjected to peer review. Mason Ameri, one of the researchers on the project, told Engadget via email that the study is a working paper and they plan to submit to a journal in the near future. Douglas Kruse, another author of the paper, added that several colleagues at Harvard and Rutgers have reviewed the current version.

The researchers provide several suggestions for Airbnb to consider including enforcing Americans with Disabilities Act standards with hosts listing wheelchair-accessible units, cultivating partnerships with disability-focused organizations, and making sure hosts adhere to the company's new nondiscrimination policy.

In a statement, Airbnb said they've already been working on a number of the issues brought up in the study and added, "Our work is ongoing and we will continue to work with everyone who shares our goal of making the Airbnb community more open and accessible.

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