Takeover ‘is landmark sign of business noticing disabled people’s spending power’

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The sale of a business set up by two disabled entrepreneurs to the online travel giant Airbnb is a “landmark” sign that businesses are taking more notice of disabled people’s spending power, according to the duo.

The Accomable website, set up by childhood friends Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, has announced that it is being taken over by US-based Airbnb.

Accomable was only launched in 2015, with the aim of providing information to disabled travellers about verified, accessible properties all over the world, and “to enable anyone to go anywhere”.

Madipalli (pictured, left) said he was “very sensitive to the fact that some in our community may be concerned that accessibility will again become an afterthought that is drowned out within a larger platform”.

But he told Disability News Service (DNS) that he had had no reservations about the sale.

He said: “We met with Airbnb’s founding team and senior management teams and were immediately impressed with their commitment to making their community more accessible.

“We were very aware that some people in our community might be concerned that accessibility would become an afterthought, but it’s always been our mission to help anyone go anywhere and with Airbnb I see we can achieve this and more.”

He said that “as part of Airbnb we’ll have the tools and resources ‎to continue what we were doing at Accomable but on a much bigger scale.

“This not only means we’ll be able to find and vet more accessible properties, but we’ll also be able to work with more disabled entrepreneurs to consider sharing their homes as hosts or leading accessible trips.

“We’ll also have the resources to cater to people with a wider variety of disabilities (this is something we covered a little on Accomable but not nearly as much as we’d have liked).”

He is now moving to San Francisco to work full-time for Airbnb, leading the team that develops and improves Airbnb’s accessibility features and filters.

In its own statement, Airbnb said Madipalli and his team would build on its efforts to make its services more accessible to disabled people, while the Accomable listings would gradually be included into the Airbnb database.

Sibley (pictured, right), who stepped back from involvement in Accomable last year but had kept a stake in the company, said he believed the sale was “a sign that bigger businesses want to take note of disabled people and their spending power”.

He said Accomable would have struggled on its own to have the impact it will have as part of Airbnb.

Sibley said the sale “furthers the case” for more businesses to invest in making their goods and services accessible, and should boost the confidence of other disabled entrepreneurs.

He told DNS: “I guess it’s a landmark moment, that a mainstream company has bought out a company founded by disabled people.”

But he said that, although there were disabled and older people who want to travel and for whom money is not a barrier, there are other areas where disabled people do not have the same sort of spending power.

Although the government keeps stressing the importance of the “purple pound” – the spending power of Britain’s disabled people – Sibley believes that years of government cuts to disabled people’s support and services are restricting its potential.

He said: “I do still feel very passionate that the way the government is going is making it harder to realise this sort of purple pound potential.

“People can’t get out of bed or bathed or showered regularly and [so can’t]go and get a job, so how can they then have the consumer spending power that would then keep all the other industries interested in that potential untapped market?”

He said the same government cuts were “hindering” the efforts of other disabled entrepreneurs who might want to follow in the footsteps of himself and Madipalli.

Madipalli declined to comment on the impact of government cuts on disabled people, but he told DNS that the sale to Airbnb “shows the value of the purple pound and I hope to see other companies follow our lead to make all aspects of their business more accessible.

“As someone who’s very passionate about new technology, I am hoping we’ll see new ways tech can help disabled people, and see even more disabled entrepreneurs build tech that allows for better accessibility.”

Sibley said the sale to Airbnb was “quite a nice closing of the circle”, because when he and Madipalli set up the website they called it “the Airbnb for disabled people, and we read stuff about Airbnb that kind of inspired when we were creating it what we were going to do”.

Sibley will now continue to focus on his consultancy work and his role as chief executive and founder of the online magazine Disability Horizons, where he is preparing the launch of a personal development zone for disabled people.